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Balanced pairings may increase Canada's competition

by Aaron Vickers /

CALGARY -- A left-handed shot on the left point seems all right for Canada coach Mike Babcock.

If Babcock's defensive pairings during national men's team orientation camp at Markin Macphail Centre were any indication -- he made it perfectly clear they're not to be read into -- he prefers a left-handed shot on the left side matched with a right-handed shot on the right.

"He didn't mention anything to us, so I'm not too sure exactly how he feels, but I think everyone was paired up there like that," said Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, who won gold with Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. "It's definitely going to be a decision that they're going to have to make, and all we can do is just play and see what happens."

Weber, a righty, was flanked by lefty-shooting Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic was paired with San Jose Sharks teammate Dan Boyle, another lefty-righty combination. Marc Methot of the Ottawa Senators was matched up with Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins, another equal pairing. Marc Staal of the New York Rangers, who shoots left, was matched up with right-handed shot Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.

OLYMPIC ORIENTATION CAMPS is providing blog updates from both USA's orientation camp in Arlington and Canada's camp in Calgary as they begin to prepare for the 2014 Winter Olympics. READ MORE ›

"I don't know if that's what they're thinking," Doughty said. "I'm sure they have somewhat of an idea right now, but at the same time, every single spot is available. I don't think there's too many guys who have a spot locked up."

That's Karl Alzner's hope.

With a plethora of talented right-handed shots, a balanced duo on defense could open the door for the Washington Capitals defenseman who, coincidentally, was paired in camp with teammate Mike Green.

Green shoots right.

"I think that's definitely the best way to go about things," said Alzner, a left-handed long shot to make Canada's roster. "It makes a huge difference playing your strong side. I think it probably does help my chances. We'll see if it pans out the way I want it to, but this is probably the best opportunity I could ask for."

In fact, the only pairing in camp that wasn't exclusively left-right was the trio of Alex Pietrangelo, Travis Hamonic and Dan Hamhuis, who rotated through drills as the final pairing.

But Pietrangelo said he believes every defenseman picked will have to be able to play either side, in any situation, at any time, and that every spot remains open on Canada's roster.

"You've got to prove you can play in all situations. There's a lot of good defensemen here," the St. Louis Blues defenseman said. "You look around, see the company that you're with ... it's certainly an honor to be in the same group as these guys and you've got to try and find a way to separate yourself from everybody else, and it starts with attention to detail at this camp."

Pietrangelo said playing out of position wouldn't be a bother.

Naturally, there were defensemen who would switch to wing if it meant a trip to the Olympics. Count Dion Phaneuf in that camp.

"I want to play whatever position," the Toronto Maple Leafs captain said. "Whether you're a left-handed shot or a right-handed shot, you look at the numbers and sometimes there's more of one side than the other. Obviously this year there's probably more on the right side, which is unusual."

Like the other defensemen in camp, Phaneuf knows being one of the 25 selections come December goes well beyond which way you shoot. And like the pairings in camp, not much can be determined in August.

"They're going to take the guys who are playing well, so you don't want to read into it too much," he said.

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