Entering the upcoming season, the Calgary Flames possess a defensive core that is the envy of the league, one that most pundits have annointed as the best in the business.
Not coincidentally then, the Flames top three d-men, Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf, and Jay Bouwmeester
, are all participating in Team Canada's Olympic orientation camp, a larger contingent than from any other team.
Whether or not all three will travel to Vancouver in February to compete for their nation will not be determined for months, so for the time being, it's not something Dion Phaneuf is overly concerned with.
|Dion Phaneuf |
"Right now we're just trying to come together; it's about camaraderie more than anything. We know this is a big camp for each and every one of us, we're not looking down the road to the group that's going to be chosen, we're here all as one right now, to come together, to meet each other, to learn the system we're going to play," said Phaneuf, who has been impressed with his contemporaries so far.
"This whole group, not just the defence, is a very fast group. You could see that after the first skate, everyone was moving, not only the d-men but the forwards. Everyone can skate here, everyone can move the puck, and everyone is very skilled. It's a special group and an honour to be invited to this camp."
"When you get guys like this together, it's going to be good hockey… It's a deep bunch of talented guys, a lot of young guys... you just get familiar with everything so you don't have that adjustment period when (the Olympics) pop up in the middle of the year," agreed Bouwmeester, who has enjoyed shifting around and experimenting with different blueline partners over the course of camp.
"You have an idea going in of what might work together but sometimes guys just work out well together, there's no real formula to it, sometimes you communicate well, or other styles just seem to suit each other, but you never know until you actually play together."
The orientation camp is winding down, with only one more practice Thursday and the scrimmage game later in the evening. While Bouwmeester is as eager as the rest of the bunch to make a lasting impression on management, he is looking forward to getting into a spirited, competitive match.
"I don't think we're going to be running around and hitting each other or anything like that, we're just going to have fun. It'll be fun to play a game again, I haven't done it all summer, and I'm looking forward to it. I don't think tomorrow is going to be the be-all and end-all of everything. You want to play well, if you do anything you want to do it well, I don't think there's anything to prove though,” said Bouwmeester.
While Phaneuf is approaching the scrimmage with a similar mindset as his new teammate, he is also keenly aware that any positive momentum he builds in camp absolutely must be carried into the first few months of the season.
"It's no secret that the start of the year is huge for everyone in this camp, it's a big evaluation time.... Right now I'm just focused on having a good camp here and a good start to the season, and let things fall where they may. I have to play the style of game that I play and that's all I can do, is give my all every night, and have a good start to the season," said Phaneuf, who has put a frustrating season behind him, and is filled with enthusiasm for the upcoming campaign.
“To be honest with you last year is last year, it was a long time ago. We were not happy as a team with the way we finished. There's 29 teams that are unhappy at the end of the year and we are one of them. With saying that we're moving forward and looking forward to this year…. I'm excited about the guys that we've brought to Calgary, I'm excited about the team we have in Calgary, and I know everyone on our team is excited about the start of training camp."
While training camp for the Flames is approaching quickly, the team’s defensive stars remain focused on soaking in as much of the Olympic experience as possible, hoping they will be invited to continue along the ride.
“It would definitely be a great honour to make this team,” said Phaneuf. “Anytime you get an opportunity to represent your country on the world stage, especially at something as big as the Olympics, the biggest sporting stage in the world, so it would be a huge honour to represent our country there.”