BostonBruins.com - Five members of the Black & Gold gathered in Calgary on Sunday for the start of Hockey Canada's Olympic Orientation Camp, a step in the preparation for the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014, which runs through Wednesday, August 28.
Gold-medal winner from 2010 in Vancouver, Patrice Bergeron, is one of the 47 players invited to the camp, along with teammates Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand. Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien is serving as an associate coach on Mike Babcock's staff for Sochi, and General Manager Peter Chiarelli, who has been advisor for Team Canada for years, has officially been added as a full-fledged member of the management group that will be involved in choosing the team heading to Russia in February. Steve Yzerman heads the seven-person group.
Players won't be hitting the ice together (due to the high cost of insurance on the NHLers' contracts), but the camp still offers an opportunity for management, coaching staff and Hockey Canada to present the players with the team’s plans for Sochi, including playing systems, international rules and regulations and logistics. The United States is also holding their camp during this time, from August 26-27 in Virginia at the Washington Capitals practice facility.
In Calgary on Sunday, the Team Canada management and coaching staffs were introduced to media during a press conference, along with a select group of players that included Bergeron.
Julien, who has experience coaching Team Canada at the World Juniors and World Championship levels, spoke about his excitement for the opportunity to be involved with his first Olympics.
"I think it's a great opportunity to do something different…it will also be a lot of fun," he told gathered media, on the camp this week. "This is not an evaluation camp - it's about getting to know the expectations of our group and also to give ourselves an opportunity to get to know each other a little better."
As Julien and his players in attendance will be reporting to Boston in a few weeks, the camp is about learning Canada's approach to Sochi and how they will make the quick adjustment to the larger European ice surface once they switch gears in February.
And being invited to the camp is just the beginning for the players; their play during the NHL season will about but dictate the roster's outcome in late December and early January.
The 200 x 100 feet ice surface provides for an extra 15 feet on the wings than the NHL sheet. When shaping a roster, there is even more of an emphasis on speed and agility - if you are a player lacking at all in those areas, your hockey smarts must make up for it. More space also makes it imperative to defend as a team, with the five-man unit all in sync.
Canada is also looking for a younger group in 2014 than in 2010, which, combined with the above approach, could open the doors for Lucic and Marchand to get a shot.
There were 13 centers invited to the August camp, with seven of them having played on the winning Vancouver squad, and the option to move players to the wing. But Canada's Head Coach Mike Babcock stressed during the press conference that his staff will have the best players on the ice, and that having multiple centers on lines could serve as an advantage in the faceoff circle (similar to Julien's approach).
Bergeron had a limited role in 2010, but with four more years of experience, a Stanley Cup and a warrior-like Final performance, he could be positioned for a much more significant role in Sochi.
When BostonBruins.com spoke with the B's alternate captain from Quebec City back on August 13, he wasn't focusing on the logistics of making the team; he was just honored to have the chance.
"I'm really excited - it's a huge honor anytime you're called to represent your country," he said. "Even if it's for a training camp for the Olympics, it's something very exciting and I'm looking forward to it. Obviously, Canada's the defending champion, we won't the gold medal last time and I definitely would like to be a part of that team again."
"I know it's hard to make it and I'm just excited to be named in that group of players - I'm obviously looking forward to it."
Besides Bergeron, Lucic and Marchand having the opportunity to head to Sochi, other Bruins who are in the mix (or locks) for their own countries' Olympic squads include Zdeno Chara with Slovakia (he was the captain in 2010), Loui Eriksson with Sweden, David Krejci with the Czech Republic and Tuukka Rask with Finland. They all were invited to their countries' respective camps. Dennis Seidenberg has competed in three Olympics, but his native Germany will not be in the Games, as they were defeated in the qualifier this past February. I also wouldn't discount any of the B's having breakout years and getting a good look.
Jarome Iginla wasn't invited to Canada's orientation camp (Canada has emphasized they want a much younger group in Sochi), but helped lead the squad to a gold medal in 2010 and has been a part of three Olympic Games, so if they decide to go with more a veteran presence - and 'Iggy' has an up-tick year with the B's - he could still get the call.
The Olympic break in NHL action will take place from Sunday, February 9, through Sunday, February 23.
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