Hockey

Tim Wharnsby - Monday Feb. 10, 2014 15:07 ET

Team Canada's NHLers practice for 1st time in Sochi

Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Mike Smith to bunk together

Sidney Crosby and Mike Babcock
Sidney Crosby and Mike Babcock don't have much time to get on the same page at the Sochi Olympics. (Bryan Snyder/Reuters)
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SOCHI – Dressed up in their red, white and black Canadian Olympic apparel, a bunch of bleary-eyed and jet-lagged hockey players received their first look at possible linemates, roommates and their surroundings in Sochi on Monday.

After an 8 ½ hour flight aboard four separate luxury charter planes – three left from Newark, N.J., the other from Atlanta – 25 Canadian players, the five-member coaching staff as well as Steve Yzerman and the management team touched down at the Winter Olympics.

They were given room assignments. For example, captain Sidney Crosby will bunk in with alternate captain Shea Weber. Some have three to a room. Goalies Roberto Luongo, Carey Price and Mike Smith apparently are staying together.

They toured the Olympic village and some players walked around Olympic Park before they went for an evening skate at the Bolshoy Ice Dome to combat the jet lag.

That’s where Canadian head coach Mike Babcock trotted out his first set of lines and then tinkered like a mad scientist. We can expect a few more changes before the opener against Norway on Thursday.

"We expect everybody to compete for ice time," said Babcock, who used many different forward combinations and defence pairing en route to Canada's gold-medal win in Vancouver four years ago.

Jeff Carter placed on top line

Initially, the four lines were shaped like this (left-to-right): Chris Kunitz-Crosby-Jeff Carter; Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Rick Nash; John Tavares-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry; Patrick Marleau-Patrice Bergeron-Jamie Benn.

But then Marleau replaced Tavares alongside Getzlaf and Perry, and Tavares moved to centre between Benn on the left side and Bergeron on the right.

“A lot of us weren’t really sure,” Tavares said. “I think a lineup was posted somewhere in the room but we really didn’t know. We just kind of got here and got on the ice.

“I know Babs called my name and I was down the middle so I think that’s where I’m starting. I’ll have to double check.”

Steven Stamkos was slated to play alongside Crosby and Kunitz, but when he wasn’t cleared for action last week, it left a hole on the first line that Carter will get the first opportunity to fill.

“I think the things that stick out are his speed and his shot,” Crosby said. “He’s going to get open and he’s going to create things with his speed. We’ll figure things out as we go along.”

Carter was placed on that line because of his scoring ability. But during one of the three-on-two line rushes early in practice, he passed the puck back to Crosby.

“After seeing him pass the puck I don’t know,” joked Babcock, when asked why he put Carter on that line.

Martin St. Louis, Matt Duchene extra forwards

For now, Martin St. Louis and Matt Duchene are the extra forwards. In the international game, a team can dress 13 forwards and seven defence, compared to the 18-skater limit in the NHL.

The four defence pairings were: Duncan Keith-Shea Weber; Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo; Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Drew Doughty; Dan Hamhuis-P.K. Subban.

The purpose for Canada’s first practice was to get used to the larger international dimensions of the rink, work a bit on the power play and penalty killing as well as keep the players awake so they could become accustomed to the time change.

“It’s been a long day,” said Babcock, who returned home in the early hours of Sunday morning after his Detroit Red Wings played in Tampa Bay and then took an early flight to get to the charter on time. “This was a good opportunity to keep the players up until midnight.”

The Canadian players were advised not to nap when they arrived in Sochi. That way they were sure to sleep through the night in the hopes they swiftly adjusted to the nine-hour time difference from the Eastern time zone.

They also had enough time to look around and approve of their surroundings.

“We’ll be excited to get to bed tonight and start a routine here tomorrow,” Crosby said. “It’s been a lot of travel, but the facilities are great, it’s a short walk to the rink, so we’re well set up.”

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