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McCabe, Canada Head To Italy

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
February 14, 2006

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. (CP) -- Many of the country's best players wandered around a suburban practice rink, collecting their new Team Canada equipment from cardboard boxes and quickly exchanging hellos.

On the ice, two workers scrambled to put the finishing touches on advertisements lining the boards in the minutes before the team's first full practice Monday.

Pat Quinn looks to go 3 for 3 with Team Canada.
(Graig Abel Photography)

Everything about Canada's pre-Olympic gathering seemed hastily thrown together, but coach Pat Quinn called it a necessary first step in defending its gold medal.

"We've got a very short period of time to become a team,'' Quinn said. "We don't have many practices, we've got guys from different systems, different teams.

"The big thing is to pull them together, give them a simple enough system that everybody can adjust to, and then start team-building.

"This is a very onerous schedule. It'll be a lot of hockey.''

Fortunately for Quinn and his staff, they've got experience.

When the 2002 team met in Salt Lake City, the coaches skated them for 65 minutes and watched them play a sluggish first game in a 5-2 loss to Sweden.

Monday's practice consisted of just 23 minutes of drills to try and prevent a repeat when Canada opens this tournament against Italy on Wednesday.

"We know now to rest players,'' said associate coach Ken Hitchcock. "As the tournament starts to move along, that's the thing we learned: that rest becomes more valuable than going on the ice and practising.''

Ten Canadian players had played NHL games in six different North American cities on Sunday. They made their way to Toronto to join the rest of the team for Monday's meeting, before boarding a flight later that evening for Italy.

There'll be little time for rest as Canada plays five games in the first seven days of the tournament.

Still, the players don't see fatigue being a problem.

"It is a pretty hectic schedule, but you kind of get re-energized in situations like this,'' said goalie Roberto Luongo. "I think all the guys are really excited about going over there, myself included.

"I've been playing a lot of hockey lately, and I've been feeling a little tired. But now that there's a change of atmosphere, you kind of get re-energized on your own.''

It showed during Monday's brief practice as the players skated hard through drills.

Many wore smiles as they looked around and saw who their teammates would be for the next two weeks.

"It's a pretty big deal,'' said 21-year-old forward Rick Nash. "I feel honoured and privileged to play with these guys.''

If there's one break in the tough schedule, it's that Canada's easiest opponents come at the start of the event. In order, Canada plays Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Finland and the Czech Republic.

Captain Joe Sakic said the team is long on experience and knows not to focus too much on the round robin games.

"At the end of the day, it's what you do in the last three games that matter the most,'' Sakic said. "For us, we just want to try and get that chemistry as early as possible.''

One of the ways to do that is to get everyone involved.

Quinn says he plans to give each of the 13 forwards and seven defencemen on his active roster ice time over the opening games.

"These guys play a lot of minutes, so we're gonna rotate all seven (defencemen) for sure, and everybody's gonna get ice time,'' he said. "When we play the eighth game in 12 nights in the gold-medal game, that'll be a lot of hockey.''

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