Hockey

Tim Wharnsby - Tuesday Feb. 11, 2014 17:44 ET

P.K. Subban will have to earn his time on the big ice

Reigning Norris Trophy winner could be 7th defenceman

P.K. Subban (left) and John Tavares share a laugh during a Team Canada practice
P.K. Subban and John Tavares share a laugh during Team Canada's first practice in Sochi. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Sochi – If you’re playing well you will play a lot for Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team head coach Mike Babcock. If you’re not, you won’t.

Take defenceman Chris Pronger at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. His ice time declined in the first three games from 19:08 to 17:19 to 14:05. But as the tournament became more important Pronger got his groove back and he was tapped on the shoulder employed more and more.

He wound up playing a team-high 23:35 in the gold-medal final.

That’s why Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban should not be disheartened through the first two practices that he has been skating on the fourth defence pairing with Dan Hamhuis.

“I’m not going to spend any energy analyzing what is going to happen in this tournament,” Subban said on Tuesday. “I’m going to take whatever role I’m given and excel at it. That’s your job as a pro. That’s your job as an Olympic hockey player and representing your country as a citizen of Canada.”

Maybe Subban will be employed as a power-play specialist. But Babcock dismissed that notion. So we won’t find out his exact role until Canada opens the men’s hockey tournament against Norway on Thursday.

Babcock, however, did remark that managing a bench with 13 forwards and seven defencemen in the international game has its challenges, compared to the make-up of the NHL bench of 12 forwards and six blueliners.

“I believe that our job is to get the best players on the ice as much as we possibly can,” Babcock said. “We tried to change that each night to who’s playing well."

With the fast tempo and elite level of the international game, players often welcome a bit of a breather. It's impossible to maintain the pace for long stretches, Babcock said. 

“So how much the 13th forward or seventh defenceman will play, I don’t have the answer to that.”

“Guys have to park their egos," said assistant coach Ken Hitchcock.

"When it’s your time to go, go. Don’t sit there and wonder what the the coach is thinking. Don’t sit and wonder, ‘am I going to get on the ice?” Don’t wonder what your family is thinking.

"No player is going to play the minutes he does in the NHL. It’s not even going to be close.”

Defence, special teams focus of 2nd practise

Babcock and the Canadian coaching staff spent much of the team’s second practice reviewing the defensive side of the game, special teams and adjusting to the larger international ice surface.

Canada was taught some hard lessons with it finished seventh in Turin eight years ago. They played too much on the outside, which is a danger on the big ice.

“The two lessons from Turin, don’t expect injured players to get healthy during the tournament,” assistant coach Ken Hitchcock said. 

>“The second is foot speed. If you can’t skate, it doesn’t matter what you have skill wise.”

Former Belleville Bull used to big ice

Subban can skate. He also has plenty of experience on the big ice, having played four years of junior on an Olympic-size rink with the Belleville Bulls.

Canadian forward John Tavares was telling Subban how he hated to go to Belleville, but then reminded Subban that he had a couple of four-point nights as a visitor. Subban chuckled because he enjoyed playing on the big ice.

“You’re just giving the best players in the world more space to work with,” said Subban, who has been joined in Sochi by his parents, two sisters and their three children.

“I’m sure the best players will play. You look at our team, we have so much talent and so many players capable of playing. It’s not a knock on anyone if they’re playing seven minutes a game or not playing at all. You just have to have a positive attitude and have lots of energy. I’m an optimist and that’s the way I look at it.”

Hitchcock also had a word of advice.

“The big ice game is a squished can game,” he said. “The blue lines are closer so point shots are relevant. There’s less time on the power play north and south. It’s a different game here."

Comments on this story are moderated. Comments will appear immediately but may be removed if they violate our Submission Guidelines. Comments are open and welcome for three days after the story is published. We reserve the right to close comments before then.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that the CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.