Team Canada's Olympic orientation camp is but a brief moment to gather the best hockey players Canada has to offer and begin preparations for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Flames captain Jarome Iginla
is one of the established leaders of the group, and based on his on-ice effort Monday, he is setting the bar for pace and intensity for the group early, and he is setting it high.
Flying across the surface of the ice top-speed, Iginla displayed the kind of leadership expected of him as one of the groups’ elder statesmen. Having represented Canada at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, as well as the 2006 games in Torino, Iginla is in a unique position to hand down the lessons that were once taught to him by the likes of Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic.
Fortunately the task is not his alone. With the breadth and quality of leadership in attendance for the orientation camp, Iginla is able to share the responsibilities throughout the locker room.
“One of the strengths of being part of Canadian hockey is they have a lot of players here who are leaders on their club, assistant captains, captains, people who have been around for a long time and been a part of different championships. You definitely get a lot of help… There’s always guys to lean on and leadership by the group, that’s been one of Canada’s strengths for a long time.”
Steve Yzerman, once Iginla’s teammate on Team Canada and now its’ executive director, expects Iginla to be one of the team's key players when the Olympic tournament commences in February.
“Jarome is one of the top players in the league, a leader on a top team here in Calgary. He has been a solid, top player for a long time,” said Yzerman. “He’s been though the good (in Olympic competition), he’s been through the bad, and he knows what to expect from the competition. If he keeps playing at the level we expect, he’ll have an important role on the team.”
While everyone associated with Hockey Canada are uniformly adamant that nothing about the team has been chosen yet, no roster spots have been settled and and no captain has been preordained, head coach Mike Babcock did mention the importance of experience as a requisite for leadership.
“Guys who have been there before can be a stabilizing force as they have been in the past,” said Babcock.
Iginla for one has heard the speculation about him being captain, but rather than get caught up in speculation, he remains solely focused on putting forth his best effort, and contributing his team and country in any way deemed necessary.
“I want to be part of Team Canada; I’ve had a great time in previous tournaments and Olympics. It’s early, and it’s not something I believe you lobby for or anything like that. Whoever management and coaches choose, they have a lot of good choices to choose from for captain, will get a lot of support from the guys in the room… It’s not something that I really think about,” said Iginla, who heaped praise on linemate Sydney Crosby, considered in some corners to be Iginla’s main competition to be awarded the ‘C’.
“With Sidney there’s a lot of hype, and he’s lived up to it and more,” said Iginla. “Already to have won the Stanley Cup, the points per game he’s scored, he makes the players around him better, he has all that pressure… he gets a lot of pressure on the ice and off the ice, and it doesn’t faze him.”
|Sidney Crosby |
Crosby is one of a number of players who are getting their first taste of Canadian Olympic hockey and the ocean of expectations that the chosen few find themselves treading through. In keeping with the lessons he was taught, Iginla is making a special effort to welcome the newbies while ensuring they soak in the experience.
“We’re all very excited to be here, I’ve been fortunate to be part of the Olympics before. We’re all getting a chance to meet each other, some of the younger guys don’t know each other yet and some of us have played together before,” said Iginla.
“Looking back, being a younger guy, being nervous, some of the older guys made me feel more comfortable. As the veterans, the guys who have been there before, we’re trying to make sure everybody feels apart of it, feels comfortable, and get to know each other.”
The main lesson Iginla wants to impart on the collection of superstars is the same lesson he learned when he was one of the up and comers vying for a trip to Salt Lake City, that team comes before all, and that sacrifice is absolutely essential to any success the team is going to have on the ice.
“You look back at other teams in other Olympics’ and you have to be ready to ready to accept any role; that goes without saying. To be on the team is a huge honour, and we have to be prepared for whatever role is asked of us. If you’re an offensive guy you might have to play defensive, or play in a checking role or whatever.”