Sports Hockey

Youth movement on Team Canada

Terry Jones, QMI AGENCY

At 3:36 a.m. Zurich time, with most of them in the air flying here, Team Canada became Canada’s Team.

When the Ottawa Senators were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs in Game 7 in New York, it became the first time since 1996 that no Canadian franchises would be involved in the second round.

And if there ever was a year for that to happen again, it’s perfect for the players on Team Canada preparing for the world hockey championships, which open next week in Helsinki. They’re likely the most star-studded collection of young Canadian hockey stars to ever be assembled to compete in the event.

They deserve to find a much greater focus than normal. Only the much more veteran gathering of Canada’s best for the lockout year in 2005 in Innsbruck, Austria, would likely trump this team.

It may be “No Canada” back home but it’s clearly “Oh Canada” over here and that isn’t lost on this group.

“You have a Canadian team still playing over here, and you can tell that all these guys know it and are excited about it,” said Brent Sutter, the recently departed coach of the Calgary Flames.

“This team has, I guess, been a bit of a benefactor of there not being a Canadian team left in the playoffs,” added Sutter as his group gathered in front of the hotel for their bus for a short late-afternoon skate in nearby Kloten where they’ll play the second of two games against the Swiss national team on Tuesday.

With three Oilers, two Maple Leafs, two Jets and one player from each the Flames and Canadiens, that’s almost half his hockey club.

It’s not often you see so many young stars so clearly impressed to be in the company of other young stars as the ones who arrived here Friday.

“It’s such a young group, such an exciting group to be part of,” said Dion Phaneuf, an absolute fossil at the age of 27.

“There are just so many skilled guys who have done so much at their age. They’re all young, exciting and fast. It’s going to be a great experience for all of us. I’m really looking forward to playing with all these guys,” he said.

P.K. Subban looked around at the guys at the rink in Kloten, at least the ones who had arrived and who had their equipment arrive as well, and laughed.

“Most of these guys are 19, 20 and 21 years old. I’m 22. I feel kind of old. And I’ve played on Hockey Canada teams before with guys like Evander Kane, Jordan Eberle, Luke Schenn and John Tavares.

“It’s great to be back wearing the country’s colours again. And it’s just a great chance to show what we can do, on the big ice, before the Olympics.”

Eberle and Devan Dubnyk are in their third consecutive springs with this squad.

They can see the difference in talent from the teams that failed to make the medal round, and left Canada seeded fifth going into this tournament.

“There’s definitely a lot more talent and, despite the ages of everybody, a lot more experience. The surprising thing is how many of these guys have played with each other before,” said Eberle.

“I’m pretty sure on the first day of my first year with the team I was a little star struck. My first year I was still in junior. I hadn’t played in the NHL yet,” Eberle added, looking at his Edmonton Oilers linemate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Everett Silvertips junior Ryan Murray standing in the group around the team bus.

“It’s awesome, for sure, especially compared to the last couple of years,” said goaltender Dubnyk, joining the first wave of arrivals at breakfast, their suitcases parked beside their tables.

“It’s fun to get together like this at the start.”

It’s Dubnyk’s third year with the team, but the first two he was the third goalie. This year he’s sharing the Canadian crease with Cam Ward.

“The first year, I was in my first year of the NHL, so mostly I looked around and kinda kept quiet. To pick this year to be a bigger part of it, with the group of guys who are over here this year, is awesome. This is going to be an amazing experience.”

It’s a special team in a lot of ways.

“It’s definitely different,” said Scott Salmond, senior director of operations of Hockey Canada.

“Not many of these guys are married. We’re not going to have the number of wives and kids around like other years. One year we set up a day-care centre, with a mini hockey rink in the middle of the room.

“Most of these guys will have their parents there.”

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