Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby headlined the short-list of Canada players who will be handed the task of winning gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
With the Winter Games just over seven months away, the Canadian men’s hockey team began to take shape on Thursday with the announcement of 46 players invited to an orientation camp from August 24 to August 27 in Calgary.
A mix of battle hardened veterans and newcomers to the Olympic pressure cooker, the group includes five goaltenders, 16 defensemen and 25 forwards. Steve Yzerman, the executive director of Canada’s Olympic team, and head coach Mike Babcock left the door open for players not on the list to sneak into the mix with their play during the upcoming NHL season. The squad must be whittled down to 23 players by the end of December when Olympic rosters must be finalized.
For Crosby, who captained the Penguins to a Stanley Cup title last month, it will be his first chance to play in an Olympics after not being among Wayne Gretzky’s picks for the 2006 Turin Winter Games.
In the four years since being passed over, Crosby has blossomed into one of the NHL’s very best players and respected leaders and is almost certain to wear the captain’s C on his jersey in Vancouver.
At the other end of the experience spectrum is New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur, who backstopped Canada to gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games and will be bidding for a spot on his fourth Olympic team along with Colorado Avalanche forward Joe Sakic and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger.
Just five of the 16 defensemen invited to camp have Olympic experience, while the forwards include 11 holdovers from the 2006 Olympic team that finished an embarrassing seventh place.
Canada will not lack firepower and grit up front with Rick Nash, Jeff Carter and Eric Staal, who all scored 40 or more goals last season.
The three Staal brothers, forwards Jordan, Eric and defenseman Marc will attend. the camp
Canada has hosted two Olympic Games and never won a gold medal but has set an ambitious target of topping the medal table in Vancouver and ending that drought.
No medal, however, will matter more among hockey-mad Canadians than the men’s hockey gold.
“Pressure is something you learn to embrace when you do what we do for a living,” Babcock said. “Every time I have coached for Canada it’s the exact same way, the expectations are high because the quality of athletes you have gives you a chance at success.”