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Players taking Red-White scrimmage seriously

by Dan Rosen

"We're expected to do things we have done here in camp, the tracking, defensive part and the working. It's not just a fun thing. The team is trying to accomplish things to start building the style of game Mike (Babcock) wants us to play."
-- Jarome Iginla

CALGARY -- Head hunters are not welcome at the Pengrowth Saddledome tonight.

The Canadian Olympic orientation camp concludes with the Red-White scrimmage at 9 p.m. ET tonight, and while nobody expects any crunching hits or message-sending punishment, the players expect it to be up tempo, competitive and quite interesting.

"I don't necessarily think guys are going to be running each other through the end walls, but at the same time, in practices guys are skating and when guys are skating it's a quick game, you get on guys in a hurry," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. "There is going to be high tempo. Everybody wants to show what they can do and it's only one game."

Well, it's hardly a game. The format is unique.

Team Canada's executives and coaches want to see the players in all different scenarios, so the first period will be 20 minutes worth of 5-on-5 play, while the second period will be all special teams with each squad getting 10 minutes on the power play and 10 minutes on the penalty kill. The third period will be broken in half between 4-on-4 and 5-on-5.

When the 60 minutes are done, the players will conduct a shootout so the coaches can see the skaters and goalies in that setting, too. In the Olympics, if the game isn't decided after a 10-minute overtime period the game goes into a shootout.

The idea is for the players to work on everything they have practiced this week in a game-like setting. Since there is only one practice before the Olympic tournament begins in February, tonight's scrimmage takes on even greater importance than it normally would.

"For three days they have been on the ice working on power play, penalty kill, forecheck, all different points of the game," Executive Director Steve Yzerman said. "I want them to apply that in a scrimmage-type situation. I'm not going to be judging who is on the team, but this is the only opportunity to apply those things in a reasonable game-like situation."

Nobody will be cut from the team after tonight's scrimmage, but the players will probably be playing as if that were possible. All the important people are in the building tonight and it's their best chance to leave a lasting impression.

"We're expected to do things we have done here in camp, the tracking, defensive part and the working," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. "It's not just a fun thing. The team is trying to accomplish things to start building the style of game Mike (Babcock) wants us to play."

We have been warned at least 100 times this week not to read too much into the line combinations, but even Yzerman admitted there is a purpose to what the lines will be like tonight. They are looking for combinations that work, chemistry that is evident.

They may have already found that with Rick Nash and Sidney Crosby, the only two players who have been paired on the same line since the start of camp.

The hulking Nash and the fearless Crosby figure to play together again tonight. On the other side will be Iginla, who along with Martin St. Louis were the other wingers to play with Nash and Crosby this week.

"I have always known his strengths, but as you get out there and see things, he's got great speed, but does an even better job of slowing down and knowing when to turn it on," Crosby said of Nash. "As someone who tries to make plays and set up guys, I know I have to put it into areas for him and play to his strengths a bit. He's got a lot of size and he's going to get that space, so it's a matter of me finding him. That's what we've tried to work on the last few days."

Added Iginla: "Nash can be a trigger man. Sid can score and pass with the best of them. It's been fun to see."

As a whole, though, the players have now gone through all the drills that Babcock uses on a daily basis with the Red Wings and tonight they're going to be put to the test. They will not be allowed to just go out there and play as if it were an All-Star Game.

"It's important to definitely bring your game and we all do things differently, but at the same time play it within Team Canada's game," Iginla said. "We have been practicing breakouts, the defensive side, how we're going to play in each zone, and they want to see that. You have to be focused on that. It's not like in summer when you can go anywhere, float and pass. We haven't been floating these first three days. In the game situation you want to compete but also think of where you're going and what spot you should be in."

As long as they all do that, Babcock won't have to stop the scrimmage for a quick teaching lesson. That would look strange to the near capacity crowd expected to attend tonight, but it wouldn't be out of character if Babcock did just that.

This entire camp has been run on his time, at his pace and to his liking.

Nothing changes now.

"He's a guy that it just doesn't matter who you are," Ducks forward Corey Perry said. "If you are doing what he wants, you're going to be in his good books. It is his team. He's the head coach, and what he says goes. That's the way you have to take it."

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