It was eight years ago when Steve Yzerman, then nearing the end of his Hall Of Fame career, took to the ice for the first time at a Canadian men's Olympic hockey orientation camp.
The venue was the Father David Bauer arena, a few kilometres north and west of the Pengrowth Saddledome, where they took the first tentative steps toward building the team that will represent Canada in men's hockey for the 2010 Olympics.
Did Yzerman, executive director of the 2010 team, even remember who he skated with on that first night, back in September of 2001? For that matter, did it have any bearing on the final result - a gold medal in men's Olympic hockey, Canada's first in 50 years?
"Honestly, I have no idea," replied Yzerman, with a laugh. "I don't remember."Really, a better question might be, when we start the tournament, will the lines in Game 4 be different from the lines in Game 1? I know definitely in '02, at the Olympics, our lines juggled around until the Czech game and then they stayed the same.
"So they'll change throughout this camp and the coaches will have their own visions of who plays where and what their roles will be. That will evolve - and once you get into the tournament, it will evolve even more."With 46 players in camp - and only Ryan Getzlaf (sports hernia surgery) and Cam Ward (back discomfort) excused from the first day of practice - coach Mike Babcock said not to read much into the first day's line combinations, because they would probably change right away.For what it's worth, Babcock divided the team into two groups - Red and White - and began with a No. 1 line that featured Sidney Crosby centring Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla.Babcock largely played mix-and-match with all his players. Even ones that would naturally be paired as a unit (the Sharks' Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau; the Senators' Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley; the Flyers' Jeff Carter and Mike Richards) were all put on separate units.Richards played with Heatley and Brenden Morrow; Jonathan Toews centred Martin St. Louis and Simon Gagné; Jordan Staal was between Andy McDonald and Shane Doan.For the second group, Thornton centred Eric Staal and Corey Perry; Lecavalier was between Milan Lucic and Carter; Jason Spezza had Patrick Marleau and Dan Cleary on his wings; while Derek Roy was out with Ryan Smyth and Patrick Sharp."What we tried to do was put together some combinations, but we're also very cognizant of the fact that, on Day 1, we wanted to give everybody an opportunity," Babcock said.Babcock had everybody in stitches when he noted how much input he's already received from the public in terms of player selection."Everybody at my lake, they picked a team all summer," Babcock said. "I just got a text from somebody saying, 'I don't even know why you're at the camp, they already picked the team in the paper today.'"People are into it and I think that's fantastic. But I think the competition for jobs in all areas of this team are up for grabs. Not for one second could I tell you who is going to be on this team. I couldn't do that."Yzerman and Babcock met with all the prospective candidates at the team hotel yesterday afternoon, to outline their expectations for the orientation camp and beyond. Much of it was familiar ground: Babcock reiterated that, as a coach, he wanted players that he could trust."Right now, we're a great group of talent," Babcock said. "We have to become a great team. That's basically what we told them here the first day. We talked a lot about 200-foot players. What that means to me is simply one word - trust - that we have to trust them everywhere in the rink if they want to be on our team. You have to play a 200-foot game.You have to be good without the puck. The better we are without it, the more time we'll have it."That starts, on the ice, today."Among the natural centres playing the wing yesterday were Eric Staal, Marleau, Carter and McDonald."I'm certainly not averse to putting centre men on the wing," Yzerman said. "Good players can play anywhere. They'll figure it out. I have my opinion on some guys who'll make good wingers and will make the adjustment better and be more effective, playing with the right type of centre men."Some of them [line combinations] may just happen. I go back to the '87 and '91 Canada Cups where they threw Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux on a line together and I don't think that was thought out before the tournament. They just did it and it worked. I think Dale Hawerchuk played on the wing. We've had good success with that and we're prepared to do that."Having said all that, I think it's important to have some natural wingers, guys who know the nuance of the position. Some of the centre men want to go-go-go and wingers are used to being more stationary. Some guys are better suited to it and our intention is to try a few of them on the wing. Realistically, some will be on the wing in the tournament."