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Olympic dream to be delayed for Canada scratches

Tuesday, 02.11.2014 / 1:49 PM / 2014 Olympics

By Arpon Basu - Managing Editor LNH.com

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Olympic dream to be delayed for Canada scratches
The Olympic dream is getting closer to reality for Canada with their first game coming Thursday against Norway (noon ET, USA). Two players, however, will have to wait at least another day.

SOCHI -- The Olympic dream is getting closer to reality for Canada with their first game coming Thursday against Norway (noon ET, USA).

Two players, however, will have to wait at least another day.

The identities of the two players coach Mike Babcock will need to scratch for Canada's first game became a little clearer after practice Tuesday.

In all likelihood it will be one of Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay Lightning) or Matt Duchene (Colorado Avalanche) at forward, and one of Dan Hamhuis (Vancouver Canucks) or P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens) on defense.

It's the unfortunate reality of having a 25-man roster and a 23-man lineup, but it's not one the players affected by it are dwelling on.

"Hopefully I get to play, I get in the lineup, even if it's the 13th [forward] spot," Duchene said after practice Tuesday. "I just look at past guys that have been in that position. I think Jonathan Toews (of the Chicago Blackhawks) started as [the 13th forward] last Olympics and ended up being maybe the best forward on the team by the end.

"You can't let it limit you if that's where you end up. You've just got to keep working hard, you've got to be a good teammate to your guys. You can't whine or complain; you've just got to work hard. I'm the youngest guy on the team -- I'm probably the least experienced in terms of some of the big international play. I'm going to do whatever I can to help the team, whether it's on the ice or in the stands."

All four players who are candidates to be scratched Thursday had a spot on Canada's special teams at practice Tuesday, where the lines Babcock intends to use became much clearer.

Babcock had Duchene and St. Louis rotating in for each other on the second power play unit, while Subban was taking turns with Drew Doughty (Los Angeles Kings) playing next to Shea Weber (Nashville Predators) on the blue line. Hamhuis was paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic (San Jose Sharks) on Canada's penalty kill.

At even strength, St. Louis and Duchene were not on any of the four forward lines, and Subban and Hamhuis were the fourth pair on defense.

"I'm going to take whatever role I am given and excel at it," Subban said. "That's your job as a pro. That's your job as an Olympic hockey player and representing your country. As a citizen of Canada, that's your job. It's your duty to do that."

The situation is particularly unique for St. Louis, who was initially passed over for a spot on the team and was only added when Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos was ruled out last week because of injury. Now, after dealing with the disappointment of being snubbed by Canada executive director Steve Yzerman, his general manager in Tampa, St. Louis might be faced with more of it Thursday.

"If I don't dress, I don't dress," St. Louis said Monday. "I don't control that. I'm going to control what I do on the ice. My goal is to be there in the last game."

Once Babcock has the unpleasant conversation with the players who won't dress for the first game, he will still need to manage the two extra players on his bench.

He dismissed the idea of having players sit there as power play or penalty kill specialists, saying it is not realistic to have a player jump into a game with the best players in the world after sitting on the bench for 10 or 15 minutes straight.

"My concern with that is, I found this [at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics], that when you sit on the bench all that time and now you want a guy who plays 25 minutes a game to go out and be a star, it's hard," Babcock said. "It's a lot easier to do it when you don't have to knock the icicles off your legs."

At the same time, Babcock didn't deny those icicles may be hard to avoid for whoever is dressed as the 13th forward or seventh defenseman.

"To be honest, I didn't use them much last time," he said. "The way I look at is I believe our job as coaches is to get the best players on the ice as much as we possibly can or as much as they can play to help. We try to change that each night based on who's playing well. What I found at the last Olympics, guys that were playing 22 minutes in the National Hockey League, the one game where I shortened up [the bench] it just about killed the team. The tempo is so high, the play is so fast that you've got to use all your guys. How much the 13th forward and the seventh D play, I don't know the answer to that. We can look at the time sheet together after the game and figure it out."

When it comes to the decision between Subban and Hamhuis it may come down to Babcock's preference of having a power play specialist or penalty killer on the bench. But two things are in Hamhuis' favor when it comes to him being in uniform Thursday.

First, as a left-handed shot it would be easy to have Hamhuis take some shifts from Vlasic on the second pair next to Doughty, and since Babcock doesn't want a specialist sitting on the bench getting cold, this is a factor. Secondly, assistant coach Ken Hitchcock mentioned Tuesday that it is often the defensive part of the game that is more difficult to grasp, which bodes well for a stay-at-home, shutdown type like Hamhuis.

"When you're in this type of competition, the defensive responsibilities are the toughest to comprehend," Hitchcock said. "For most teams it's similar, but there's tweaks, especially on the way you track and reload. So we're trying to get everyone on the same page."

But even if Hamhuis does dress and even if Babcock tries to keep him involved, he surely won't be playing anywhere near the team-leading 24:28 he averages with the Canucks.

And Hamhuis couldn't care less.

"I think you have to put the 'you' aside and do whatever the coach asks you to do and play whatever role you're in and not worry about your ice time or what other guys are doing," he said. "It'll be different for sure. But all of us, when we tried out for this team and were named, we all knew there's just not enough ice time to go around for everyone. So it's expected."

Here are the lines Canada used at practice Tuesday:

FORWARDS

Chris KunitzSidney CrosbyJeff Carter

Patrick SharpJonathan ToewsRick Nash

Patrick MarleauRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Jamie BennJohn TavaresPatrice Bergeron

Martin St. LouisMatt Duchene

DEFENSEMEN

Duncan KeithShea Weber

Marc-Edouard VlasicDrew Doughty

Jay BouwmeesterAlex Pietrangelo

Dan HamhuisP.K. Subban

2014 OLYMPICS POLL