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Canada players started process without ice time

by Aaron Vickers / Los Angeles Kings

ALGARY -- Players couldn't step foot on the ice at Canada orientation camp this week, but those in attendance at Markin Macphail Centre in Calgary took their first steps toward defending Olympic gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

For coach Mike Babcock, who was at the helm when Canada won gold four years ago in Vancouver, camp was about developing and establishing a three-step process for Olympic hopefuls in 72 hours.

"They came here for three simple things," Babcock said. "No. 1 was to get to know everybody better, from players to coaches to management to trainers, to get to know them and have a comfort level.

"No. 2 is to understand the details of how we're going to play: terminology, where to stand, how to play in your own zone, how to play on the power play, penalty kill. We've gone over and over that. The walk-throughs made it slow enough to really spend some time on it.

"The third thing I think was critical for them is the evaluation process. How do you get to Sochi? We've tried to explain it to each and every guy so when they leave here they've got three months to do their part. They're in control of whether they go."

Consider it mission accomplished for Hockey Canada.

"The feedback from coaches and players is they think it's been worthwhile," executive director Steve Yzerman said. "They've spent a lot of time, even if they're going on the floor, in meetings and video sessions. It just takes that one step further and they can walk through their positioning. Some guys learn different than others. Some guys tune out in video and meetings and whatnot. If we do this in a practical manner, it kind of drives the point home a little bit."

It's up to the players to retain the information when they return to their NHL teams in advance of training camps opening in September.

"I'm sure guys will need to refresh a little bit, but as far as just getting idea for a foundation, it's great we're able to do it here," Sidney Crosby said. "[It's] kind of an unconventional way of doing it, but I think nonetheless we were able to benefit from it.”

Players didn't take to the ice due to insurance concerns, giving the makeshift sessions an almost summer-school vibe.

"It felt a little weird, like we were part of a summer camp that our parents enrolled us in, but it was the best possible one you could be a part of," Karl Alzner said. "It was interesting."

That doesn't mean it wasn't worthwhile.

"I think it probably accomplished more," Alzner said. "I was actually quite surprised with how in-depth we were, the video and getting an opportunity to get to do something over there. It was more than I was expecting …"

Orientation camp was the lesson. The test comes with the start of the regular season.

"There was no evaluation that took place here whatsoever just because there was no opportunity," Babcock said. "But there was lots of learning and shared information.

“We've tried to explain to each guy that they have three months to do their part, and that they're in control whether they go."

There's little room for an off night before Yzerman names his roster, expected to be announced in the vicinity of Christmas Day.

"I mean, these are all really good players," Yzerman said. "We've got to make decisions based on something. We're out there watching guys, and if they're not playing well and other guys we've got for the same role are playing well, you've got to base your decision on something."

The players have been given their homework. Canada's brass also has theirs.

"Rookie camp starts in a week for us," said Yzerman, general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. "Once we get through that, the regular season starts. The final scouting for the management group to put the final roster together begins immediately."

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