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Veteran Pronger catching on quick

by Todd Kimberley
CALGARY -- Class was in session all week, and even an old dog like Chris Pronger learned a new trick or two.

Pronger was the lone skater at this week's Canadian men's Olympic orientation camp gunning for his fourth Winter Games berth.

After 15 NHL seasons, one world championship and all three NHL-eligible versions of the Five Ring Circus, you'd think Pronger, 34, would have seen every system trotted out on a coaching blackboard.

Think again.

"A lot of teaching on the ice," said the 6-foot-6, 215-pound behemoth from Dryden, Ont., at Calgary's Pengrowth Saddledome. "More teaching this time around, just from the assistants' point of view and the style of play. They're really trying to bang that into guys' heads -- how (head coach) Mike (Babcock) wants us to play from the goaltenders out."

On opening night of this four-day orientation camp, an astonished Pronger had told reporters: "I have never done a single one of those drills we did out there today."

Thursday, the former Hart and Norris Trophy winner continued his praise for Babcock's master plan.

"This camp is really about building a base of knowledge. Video sessions are under three minutes … (but) they try to give you as much detail as possible within those three minutes," he said.

"More puck possession (than in 2006), more speed, up tempo all the time with four lines rolling and continually applying pressure," Pronger added in assessing Babcock's vision for the Canadian defense in Vancouver. "The predominant theme for the defense is being able to skate and being able to move the puck.

"Very informative. Most of us here are pretty smart, and can pick things up pretty quickly. I think you're seeing guys now understanding the concepts. It's a good way to kick off the season and get ready for training camp."

An intimidating presence with a knack for offense, Pronger will be plying his trade this winter in Philadelphia, after being acquired by the Flyers in a late-June trade that sent Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa and two first-round draft picks to Anaheim. His nasty on-ice demeanor is already being called a perfect fit for Broad Street.

Pronger is one of a select few here in Calgary, along with the likes of Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur, Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla and Roberto Luongo, who appear to be guaranteed Maple Leaf silks if they stay healthy.

And even if he's been around the block a time or two, Pronger wants to see where he stacks up as he moves into the veteran's role.

"You want to win. You always want to compete," he said. "When you've won in the past, seeing what it takes, the excitement and enthusiasm you get from winning, you want to get that back.

"You always want to feel that rush. There'll be no better opportunity for that than in Vancouver."

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