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World Cup

Mike Babcock hopes he has all the answers

Team Canada coach already faced with questions about Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, Crosby's linemates

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

OTTAWA -- Mike Babcock was ready for the question.

Shortly after the Team Canada coach led his players through their first workout in preparation for the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Canadian Tire Centre on Monday, Babcock was asked why St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was playing on the left side as a right-handed shooter.

 

It was a debate that raged all summer, especially after Pietrangelo's teammate on the St. Louis Blues, Jay Bouwmeester, was named to the roster Aug. 24 to replace the injured Duncan Keith. Babcock and general manager Doug Armstrong spoke at length at the time of the importance of having a balance of left-handed and right-handed shots on defense. Since Keith shot from the left side, it was natural to add the left-shooting Bouwmeester, they said.

That's why it was somewhat surprising to see Pietrangelo skating on the left side Monday.

Well, surprising to everyone except Pietrangelo.

"A couple of weeks before camp Mike called me and said, 'Hey, we think we might play you on the left side,'" Pietrangelo said.

That call from Babcock came before Bouwmeester was named to the team, and before Babcock made such a strong argument about the importance of having a balance of left and right shooters on defense.

"As the game gets tighter and tighter, it makes it even more important [to play on the strong side], especially for right-handers," Babcock said Aug. 25, a day after Bouwmeester was named to Team Canada. "Because of the fact that right-handers, we don't have enough in the NHL, so they tend to always play on their forehand side. There's way more left-handed guys playing on their off side who have spent their careers doing it."

Babcock explained Monday that moving Pietrangelo to the left doesn't change what he said that day.

"That was always the plan, we just felt that was our best group," he said. "We also were concerned if we lost a left-handed [defenseman], where would we go next? So we'd be down very skinny at that point."

The public debate on naming Bouwmeester to the team and the minutiae of a defenseman moving from the right to the left side on defense is exactly what makes the jobs of Armstrong and Babcock so difficult.

Every one of their moves will be debated and questioned by fans from coast to coast to coast.

Another source of debate that was answered Monday was who would get the first shot at playing with captain Sidney Crosby.

Boston Bruins teammates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were skating on either side of Crosby on Monday, and they couldn't have been happier, especially Marchand.

This is his first best-on-best tournament at the professional level, and to skate with a fellow Nova Scotia native who also happens to be the best hockey player in the world made his first assignment a bit more special.

"It is cool to play with a fellow Maritimer, and [Bergeron] I've obviously played with for a while. It has a little extra meaning," Marchand said. "We'll see if we stay together."

That last part is the rub, because in Crosby's previous experiences on the international stage, finding consistent linemates has become a story unto itself.

"Things can change in a short event like this," Crosby said. "Usually if they don't, that's a good thing, so hopefully with a good start we can get some momentum and get some chemistry with all the lines."

Which brings us back to Babcock.

He not only has the opinions of just about every Canadian citizen buzzing around on the streets and on social media, but also his staff of accomplished coaches and general managers giving their input. A few weeks earlier, Babcock had mentioned how he had the lineups of every Team Canada staffer in his car, and on Monday he said he recorded those opinions on what he should do for posterity.

"I was on the phone with these guys the other day and I had every GM's lineup and the four coach's lineups and I actually took a picture, just to keep it for myself," he said. "What I like to do is gather all the information and in the end someone's got to decide."

Babcock knows that someone is him, and he's perfectly comfortable with that. Having two Olympic gold medals at home probably helps with that confidence.

"The great thing about being in Canada is you can second guess all the players and there's always someone who got left off," Babcock said. "What I find is if you win -- when you win -- they don't ask you any questions. If you don't win, they ask lots of questions."

The questions already have begun. Babcock will do everything in his power to make sure they end.

 

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