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Weber, Predators' defensemen proving their worth

by Todd Kimberley
CALGARY -- Hockey Canada Associate Director Ken Holland said it himself recently: "Nashville, with Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Dan Hamhuis, has probably the best young defense in the NHL."

So does Weber feel like a babe in the Olympian woods?

Not a chance.

"You try not to get caught up in it," said Weber, 24, a pure Olympic debutante, this week at Calgary's Pengrowth Saddledome. "Everyone who's been invited deserves to be here for a reason.

"Obviously, it's an honor to be here with these guys. They're world-class players. But I definitely feel like I belong here."

Music City's young blue-line brigade has been truly infused with five-ring fervor this summer. Weber and Dan Hamhuis, 26, made their way onto Hockey Canada's list of 46 elite players attending this week's 2010 Olympic orientation camp. Meanwhile Suter, 24 -- whose dad Bob was a member of the "Miracle On Ice" squad in 1980, and whose uncle Gary won Olympic silver with the U.S. team in Salt Lake City -- took part in the American orientation camp last week in Chicago.

Weber, in particular, had a breakout season in 2008-09 with the Predators, firing home a career-high 23 goals -- 10 of them on the power play -- to go with a personal-best 53 points while upping his average ice time to 24-plus minutes a night.

And while the likes of Jay Bouwmeester, Dan Boyle, Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf, Mike Green and Brent Seabrook also are fighting for those seven defensive roster spots, Weber is buoyed by a perceived Canadian "changing of the guard" ahead of the Vancouver Winter Games.

Five of Canada's seven defensemen from the 2006 disaster in Italy are not in the mix for 2010, although Scott Niedermayer missed the Turin Games due to injury and is widely expected to wear the captain's "C" at GM Place.

And seven of the 16 defensemen at this current camp were born no earlier than 1984.

"The guys who have been there before (Niedermayer, Regehr, Bouwmeester and three-time Olympian Chris Pronger) have the upper hand, because they're more experienced and they're definitely good players," said Weber, who's competed for Canada at two World Championships.

"I've been asking them about the experiences they've had at past Olympics, and it's interesting to hear some of the answers. But everyone's here competing for a spot. Doesn't matter how old you are."

Hamhuis, meanwhile, would appear to be facing long odds in his quest to wear the big Maple Leaf on his chest. But Preds General Manager David Poile isn't one of those counting him out.

"Dan is very well thought of throughout the League," says Poile of the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder from Smithers, B.C., who's been based in Nashville since 2003. "He has represented Canada a lot in the World Championships (four straight tournaments) and been one of the best players year after year."

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