Team Canada Goes Dry land on Day 2



(This article was originally published at The Sporting News)

It became clear early on in the day just how Hockey Canada planned to substitute the lack of an on ice component at this years three day Olympic Orientation Camp in Calgary.

"I thought it was pretty cool" said Bruins forward Milan Lucic. "I know we weren’t on the ice but I think a lot was accomplished here today and I know all the guys had fun here and it’s very clear now with how the coaches want us to play in Sochi"

Due to the prohibitive costs to insure all 46 players who have a combined NHL cap hit rests at about $1.5 billion, Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock needed to find alternative methods to instruct the players about the systems and terminology that would be employed by the team in Sochi. Much like a minor hockey camp, the players were split up into groups and put through the paces by Babcock and the rest of the coaching staff.

When asked about where the ball hockey walk-through idea came from, Babcock revealed he had consulted with a couple of cross-sport colleagues – Michigan State basketball coach Mike Izzo and Detroit Lions quarterback coach Todd Downey – on the matter and drew inspiration from them.

"Tom Izzo is a Hall of Fame basketball coach," explained Babcock. "When I phoned him, he was thrilled to talk to me and had a bunch of ideas for me. We talked back and forth, he was able to help me understand the process so we could present something to the players so they could learn but also so I was confident enough that we could do this."

The conversation with Todd Downey was similar.

"Todd Downey, the quarterback coach of the Lions, he was the same," Babcock continued. "He was fantastic. Actually, he was brilliant. He had so many good ideas for me. It’s easy for me to come out and run stuff when you’re on the ice. That’s what I do for a living. This isn’t what I do for a living, so I didn’t know how it was going to be."

Clearly the point of the drills this week are to lay the fundamentals and introduce the players to the systems and terminology so that when they hit the ice together as a team in Sochi, they’ll only need a refresher coarse.

"Yeah you definitely can retain a lot [of the systems]," answered Bruins forward Milan Lucic. "We’re all smart hockey players, we’re all really good players with good hockey sense, that’s part of the reason why we’re here so it shouldn’t take too long to figure out the systems once we get Sochi."

The ball hockey drills were only one of a couple methods utilized by the coaching staff to drive home concepts and issues. A lot of other information was presented to the players today but they understand the process and what needs to be done.

"We went through the systems, we watched lots of video and lots of technical stuff," said Maple Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf. "There’s lots of information in a short period of time but the main reason why we’re here is for the name of the camp, the orientation of everything, so there’s a lot of information being presented [and] it’s our job to take that and absorb it."

At the end of the day, Mike Babcock was pleased with how smoothly everything went and the opportunity the ball hockey session presented to efficiently convey the information the coaching group felt was key.

"We thought this was an excellent day for our team and our coaching staff," Babcock said. "I think the guys had a lot of fun. I talked to a few of the key guys, and they told me it was good. We’ll talk about it [on Monday night] and we’ll revisit it again [on Tuesday] and have another good day and take a step. I think it sets us up good. I was extremely pleased."

Although a different experience from a typical practice session, just getting out on the surface with the rest of the group was an important experience for the players to not only familiarize themselves with the systems, but also with the bigger – specifically wider – surface that they’ll deal with in Sochi.

"Yeah, it was different for sure but it’s still good to physically be out here and just get a feel for exactly the type of system the team will be playing in Sochi," said Blackhawk captain Jonathan Toews. "I don’t think too many things will change as we go along and I think it’s one thing to be on the Olympic sheet and to realize how much space there is out here and how tough it is to get from A to B."

Although the ball hockey session appeared loose and laid back on the surface, Mike Babcock found himself loudly hollering out instructions and was actively involved in adjusting how the drills were done. The intensity and high level detail of the dry land training was also noted by Toews.

"That’s, I think, one of the good things about him [Babcock] as a coach. He’s very detailed, he’s very specific, he requires the attention from all his players and I saw it right away that guys were paying attention to those little details because it does matter," said Toews.

Although they’re in direct competition with each other to make the final cut, the atmosphere was light and friendly between the players, laughing and tossing friendly passes across the surface at each other. In the media scrums afterwards, the players remained upbeat, cracking jokes at each other.

The day was no doubt an exhaustive one for the group with all the meetings, ball hockey sessions and media availabilities, but the players looked forward to an evening of golf, dining and team bonding before going through it all again one more time tomorrow prior to departing and prepping for upcoming NHL training camps.

Scrimmage Lines and Notes

Group 1:

Eric Staal – Jonathan Toews – Rick Nash
Logan Couture – John Tavares – Steven Stamkos
Martin St. Louis – Mike Richards – Jeff Carter
Andrew Ladd – Ryan Getzlaf – Corey Perry

Marc Staal – Drew Doughty
Dion Phaneuf – Brent Seabrook
Jay Bouwmeester – P.K. Subban
Alex Pietrangelo – Travis Hamonic – Dan Hamhuis

Roberto Luongo
Mike Smith
Braden Holtby

Group 2:

Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Patrick Sharp
Milan Lucic – Matt Duchene – James Neal
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Jordan Eberle
Taylor Hall – Jordan Staal – Dylan Walchuk (University of Calgary)

Duncan Keith – Shea Weber
Karl Alzner – Mike Green
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Dan Boyle
Marc Methot – Kris Letang

Carey Price
Corey Crawford

Mike Babcock though made it abundantly clear that the lines seen today were not in any way shape or form, a foreshadow of what we could see in February.

"We made sure that you couldn’t read too much into the lines on purpose," Babcock said. "I want every one of these guys knowing they have an opportunity to be an Olympian. Don’t read into anything that happened here [today]."

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Bruce Dowbiggin was on the radio today talking about Babcock was one of the few NHL coaches that actually looked to other sports and hockey coaches, in order to bring new (and hopefully better) techniques. It’s a refreshing attitude to witness. Maybe it’s because I’m a Flames fan that I find this really appealing. Watching Darryl and brother Brett run the show with little to no new innovation, got really stale really fast. In start contrast, It leads to me to suspect that Detroit is probably a leader in gauging players by using advanced stats.

  • RexLibris

    Not a bad group around which to build a team.

    btw, the Oilers have brought back Omark. He’s waiver eligible so would Flames fans want to pick him up for free this coming season, or let their roster go as is if he doesn’t make the Oilers’ lineup?

  • Re: Detroit and “advanced stats”. It’s hard to know just how into this particular arm of metrics some of us tend to use any NHL team might be. For all we know, the Red Wings have been using some proxy for corsi for years. They’ve certainly concentrated on building possession-based rosters for years now.

    They were also one of the first teams to actively disavow the “build from the net out” mantra that was generally popular.

    Now, whether they came to these sorts of conclusions through other, independent measures or just through some evolution or trial and error, we can’t really know.

  • My assumption would be that Detroit uses straight-up zone time as their proxy for possession (so really, not a proxy at all). They’re in a position where they would have access to that sort of information.

  • mattyc

    I am very skeptical the Wings don’t have some numbers that inform or confirm their emphasis on possession. Whether that number is corsi or zone time or some other “advanced stat” who knows, but the strategy is too deliberate for them *not* to be tracking it somehow.

    It’s also possible that the possession-emphasis-mandate is coming from management?

    • Not according to a coach. It is their style of play. All of their players play well within their system. You will notice that they spend a great deal of time developing their players in the minors to play this style and very few players are rushed onto the big team

      • mattyc

        “You will notice that they spend a great deal of time developing their players in the minors to play this style and very few players are rushed onto the big team”

        This is certainly true. Does anyone else realize that Tomas Tatar is no longer waiver exempt? He’s only about six months older than Roman Horak, but he’s played 265(!!!) AHL games already.

  • RexLibris

    Detroit was one of the first teams I remember hearing talk about time of possession. They timed Holmstrom’s time of possession in an effort to keep it down – the idea being he’s best at tip ins and shouldn’t be carrying the puck.

    I would have wagered that Detroit fell somewhere between what we think we know about Boston’s use of advanced stats and Brian Burke’s disavowal of their very existence.

    Interesting stuff, clyde, thanks for the info.

    • mattyc

      Yeah I think that’s a good point – “what we think we know” is probably only the tip of the iceberg or only conceptually related to the proprietary stuff most teams have/use. I also think Burke is full of poop when he starts quoting Churchill and relating them to lamp-posts. He’s a smart guy, but he likes to have a juicy quote more.