After only three days in Sochi, and a handful of practices together, the men’s hockey team will begin the Olympic tournament on Thursday against Norway.
It is a quick call to action, practices over the last two days have appeared brisk, but Mike Babcock actually lamented the pace, “It’s way slower here because we don’t know the drills and we don’t know each other,” he said after Wednesday’s session, “I’d never be out here longer than 40 minutes normally, I don’t like to waste time but we have to get organized.”
The players went through a variety of game situations, including specific work on special teams, all with Babcock prescribed intensity. Flying across an ocean with such a high physical expectation, there has been no time spared. For example, Monday night’s practice was in part to keep the players awake with the aim to speed up acclimatization.
Jonathan Toews says the adjustment to a big time zone shift has required some old-fashioned will-power, “Just battling, trying not to take any naps, staying up as late as you can and sleep-in as late as you can,” he says of his strategy. Hopefully, roommate Patrick Sharp is on the same page. Sharp joked on Monday the toughest part of the tournament might be rooming with his Blackhawks’ captain.
Keeping it elementary seems to be the focus. As it should be. This is an incredible collection of the game’s talent, with a short amount of time to prepare for world-stage intensity. Early objectives are being set, “Our game plan is really simple we have to get everyone on it so they don’t think. We don’t want players thinking, we want them playing,” said Babcock today.
Canada is in a pool with Norway, plus Austria who they play on Friday and of course Finland, Sunday’s opponent. Canada is the fifth seed in the tournament. Of note, Austria and Slovenia are here in place of Germany and Belarus who competed in 2010.
As the focus turns to game one, “Tomorrow will be a good test for us,” says Toews. Perhaps more to find their legs, refine systems and improve a few working relationships. “These are all smart guys, aside from their skill they were chosen for their ability to play with different players,” said Toews.
Thursday is a game against an opponent Canada has had little trouble with historically. In four Olympic meetings, Canada had outscored Norway 37-3. And the preliminary round games do not finalize with any elimination. Even if Canada falters early, they would still have a shot at the medals, by way of a qualification game, (a luxury they ‘used’ in 2010).
Vancouver’s Olympic hero and this year’s captain Sidney Crosby is on the same page as his coach, “At a short term event like this you have to be ready to adjust, ready for anything. Usually when lines are sticking together it’s a good sign,” he said this week. So far in practice, Crosby has been most often combined with Jeff Carter and Chris Kunitz.
Canada’s collection of hockey superstars begins their effort to defend Olympic gold Thursday at 12 noon ET / 9 am PT.