Team Canada enjoys a much-needed day off in Sochi
'Everybody needs to breathe,' coach Mike Babcock says
Mike Babcock was a man with a plan on Saturday.
The Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team head coach arranged to take in some men’s curling with a bunch of players before shuffling off to the nearby Bolshoy Ice Dome to scout the Russia-United States men’s hockey game.
Sometime in the evening he planned to assemble goalkeepers Roberto Luongo and Carey Price to inform them who would start in Canada’s game against Finland on Sunday.
Babcock would not reveal at his noon-hour (local time) press briefing whether it would be Luongo, the incumbent, or Price, who has been more consistent this season and played better in the games leading to the Olympic break. But the Canadian coach did remark that he arrived in Sochi with a plan — and nothing transpired in the wins over Norway and Austria to alter his blueprint.
"I’ve had lots of time,” he said. “We as a management team, and a coaching staff, we watched the NHL all year and we picked the two goalies that we think have got an opportunity. We brought [Mike Smith] to be in the role [of third goalie] and now we’ll just go from here and watch.
“We did the same thing last time. We had a plan. We understand and I said this a number of times you get one change in this tournament and you can still win."
Like in Vancouver four years ago. Babcock chose veteran Martin Brodeur to be No. 1, but after he faltered in Canada’s third game of the tournament — a 5-3 loss against the United States — Roberto Luongo moved in to win four games in a row to help Canada strike gold.
Luongo or Price isn’t the only entry on Babcock's checklist. There has been some clamour to find captain Sidney Crosby some new linemates. Chris Kunitz, who plays on the left side with Crosby in Pittsburgh, hasn’t exhibited much in his first tour-of-duty with the Canadian Olympic team.
"The first line in the last two games has generated a ton of scoring chances, point-blankers, they haven’t gone in,” Babcock said. “Do we worry that much about that or do we just know good players score in the end?
"Lots of times in the Stanley Cup playoffs your team goes a ways and your best players have no points in the first round. Someone else picks them up, but by the time it’s all over they’re leading the thing in scoring. It’s not about that, it’s about finding a way to be the best team."
Babcock gave his players Saturday off to recharge. The 25 of them already played a combined 1,392 NHL games this season before landing in Sochi. The coaching staff put them through three long practices before the Olympic tournament opener against Austria on Thursday, so they needed a break.
“A big part of it was the NHL schedule,” Babcock said. “You can just imagine the amount of meetings with their own NHL teams to prepare for each and every game. I just know from our team it seems like we played every single game. It was exhausting.
“Then you travel over here. Then you jam in all the information and then we practiced them hard. We practiced for 56 minutes the day before our first game. That would never happen in the NHL.
“Everybody needs to breathe.”
Another adjustment has been the late starting times for Canada – 9 p.m. Sochi time.
“We tried to turn 9 o’clock into 7 o’clock over here,” Babcock said. “But it’s 2:30 in the morning and you’re sitting around every night. I saw [Canadian defenceman] Duncan Keith this morning and Dunc said he had to race over to McDonald’s to get an egg mcmuffin. So he had to get up early. Priorities, right?”