The Edmonton Oilers have an inside man at the Winter Olympics.
The team’s President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe, is on the ground in Sochi, Russia as a member of the Hockey Canada management team. After the selection of Team Canada reached its completion and the players made their way to the winter games, Lowe’s focus has turned to scouting the games and advising the staff.
I had the chance to sit down with Lowe and discuss his role with the Canadian Olympic Team prior to him leaving for Sochi.
Lowe is in an advisory role with the Canadian Olympic Team, working closely with the players and staff in their pursuit of a gold medal.
“Over the last year and a half, I was a part of a management group that was in charge of making the selections for Team Canada and that was all done in early January,” Lowe said. “Now for the meantime, at the Olympics, most of the stuff has been done. We put the players in the hands of the coaches. We’ll go over and assess play and try to contribute to the process from time to time, if necessary. But there’s not a lot we can do. However, having had experience and having been through these things before there’s certainly a little bit of advice here or there to help achieve our final goal of winning the gold medal. If I see something I feel is important, I’ll certainly pass it along to Steve Yzerman or Mike Babcock and the odd player from time to time.”
Lowe will be heavily involved in the scouting of Canada’s opponents.
“While we’re watching those games, we’ll be assessing their lineup, how their lines are formed, what sort of style of play that they have, how they’re attacking, how they’re defending, what systems they’re using and what’s their power play and their penalty kill. The coaches are watching that as well but any sort of confirmation of what they saw… There’s no stone unturned in terms of communicating with the entire staff and letting them know what’s going on with the other nations. When we’re watching games, we have the luxury of doing that. The coaches can’t watch all of the other games so we can contribute that way.”
OILERS ON THE INSIDE
While at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Lowe has dual roles. In addition to being an advisor to Team Canada, he’ll be keeping an eye out on the interests of the Oilers.
“In terms of my responsibilities with the Oilers, I’ll watch players that are potentially free agents, international players that are free agents or players that are playing for other countries, to get a good view on them. They’re maybe players that Craig MacTavish may want to make a trade for or something like that.”
He’s the Oilers’ inside man at the games and he also has access to the team’s trio of players representing their countries; Anton Belov, Ales Hemsky and Martin Marincin. Lowe talked about just how special playing in the Olympics will be for those three Oilers.
“I can only imagine. I never had the good fortune to play in the Olympics, but I’ve certainly played in big events. The Olympics, every year that we’re alive, seem to get bigger and bigger. Now that hockey has become a bigger component of the Winter Olympics, a new generation of players aspire to win a gold medal almost as much as winning a Stanley Cup. It’s a great opportunity, it’s a world stage, you get to play for your country and all of those things. I’ve played for my country and when you put the jersey on, it’s incredibly special.”
|Oilers defenceman Martin Marincin and other athletes await their baggage in Sochi. Photo provided by Kevin Lowe. |
In terms of Lowe’s interaction with those three, he says that his involvement may be more centred around the youngest of the bunch.
“Perhaps maybe Martin more so than Ales and Anton Belov, with Martin being a young guy,” Lowe said. “We’re over there representing our own countries so you don’t want to trade any secrets or anything but if I see something in his play and I get an opportunity to speak with him, I will. I’ll go out of my way to see them and say hello and congratulate them if they’re doing well and give them support if things aren’t going well. But I think in terms of Martin Marincin, it’s mostly just to see how he’s reacting to the whole thing and see how the experience is for him.”
The experience that the Oilers’ 21-year-old defenceman will acquire over in Russia is expected to be most beneficial.
“In terms of a young guy like Martin Marincin, it’s a remarkable opportunity. To think that this young guy has never played for his country at the men’s level, at the world championships and now he’s going to play for them at the Olympics, I can’t imagine the emotions running through him. But in terms of his development and the benefits for the Oilers longterm, you couldn’t ask for anything better. He’s going to play on the world stage like that and he’s going to be in the same dressing room with a guy like (Boston defenceman) Zdeno Chara. What a remarkable leader and the guy has achieved everything so it’s really good for Martin Marincin and good for us.”
THE SELECTION PROCESS
|The Team Canada coaching and management staff get ready to takeoff from NYC. Photo provided by Kevin Lowe. |
What about the players not participating in these Olympics?
As part of the selection team for Canada, Lowe was a part of the group that looked into the inclusion of Oilers forwards Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, who were both invited to the Olympic Development Camp in the offseason. Neither forward made the roster, despite having representation from Lowe. That’s because it’s a process to select an Olympic team, and it’s a tough one.
“It’s a democratic process,” Lowe explained. “There’s enough hockey minds that are making the decisions. The ultimate example of that is Steve Yzerman and Marty St. Louis. That’s his captain and his top player and, for the better interest of the group, he was not one of the original 25 players. Of course, now he’s going (Martin St. Louis replaced Steve Stamkos).
“But from my perspective, I could describe what kind of players they are. You’re always going to promote your own players but understand that everybody watches those players as well so, if you go out of your way to promote them, then you might lose a little bit of… your judgement might be second guessed somewhat. I think in most cases, you give the necessary amount of support and input in terms of what they offer and you let the group decide. There’s the 25 that made it, there’s probably another 10 or 12 that were close and then there’s another 20 or 30 that were on the long list. Still, there’s many Canadians. Half the players in the NHL are from Canada. It shouldn’t be a disappointment to players. I know everyone wants to play, but there are lots of good players that are left off the list and I suspect, by 2018, if Canada goes to the Olympics again, (Hall and Eberle) will get the opportunity.”
|The view from a hotel in Sochi, Russia. Photo provided by Kevin Lowe. |
As Team Canada nears its debut in Sochi against Norway on February 13, the big question is whether or not they have the team to compete for, and come away victorious with, a gold medal. The pressure is on for Canada to repeat its gold medal winning performance in Vancouver at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The roster is set and the management team feels they have built a balanced team. However, judgement is reserved until after the games have been played and the medals awarded.
“We don’t feel we have any players that are not good skaters,” Lowe said. “We don’t feel we have any player that can’t compete on both sides of the puck, particularly on the defensive side. They all have a fair amount of offensive ability and we feel we have the necessary amount of leadership within the group. We didn’t set out to have a young team, but we also recognize that young legs and young desire is always a good thing when sprinkled in with the right amount of leadership. We think we’ve sort of checked all those boxes. Time will tell. We’ll know in two and a half weeks whether the group we selected were good enough to win and bring it home.”
As to whether or not the players who will be wearing the red and white feel the pressure of winning gold, or feel like they’ll walk into Sochi and take it with ease, Lowe says they’re a hungry group that won’t take anything lightly.
|Team Canada players arrive in Sochi, Russia for the Winter Olympics. Photo provided by Kevin Lowe. |
“I think for the guys that were involved, which was all of us in Vancouver, we know how difficult it is. I don’t think anyone is sitting around thinking that was a piece of cake because it wasn’t in Vancouver. The team won by scoring an overtime goal, 4-on-4. Really, that’s how difficult it was. We had anxious moments in all of the games for that matter. The group knows how difficult it is. In some respects, you almost have to become a little lucky to win it and the fact that we just won it, to win it again is going to be difficult.
“We have the experiences of, I don’t want to say being complacent, going to Torino after Salt Lake figuring that we had the team and we were going to go there and, if we play well, we’re going to win. We played well, but we didn’t played well enough and maybe didn’t have the right players there. I think all of those experiences help us. It’s not easy and I had lots of people say, you’re in a no-win situation going over there, but I know the players are a proud group. The guys that have won before know how exciting it is. It’s like when you win the Stanley Cup, you want to win it again because you want to recreate that experience. There’s enough of those guys. There’s a nice blend of both groups. There’s guys that have won before that want to do it again and also guys that have never won before that want that experience. The conversations that they have in the dressing room, on the bus, in the athlete’s village and while you’re having dinner about what it’s going to be like or what it could be like to win, that’s the kind of stuff that fuels the team.”