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Siegel: Stamkos, Tavares set to lead youth revolt in Sochi

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Jonas Siegel
8/27/2013 9:16:22 AM
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CALGARY -- Jonathan Toews was the second youngest member of the gold medal-winning 2010 Canadian Olympic team. At 21-years-old, approaching one of the most pressure-infused tournaments in the nation's history, the nerves were, as one would expect, biting hard at an early practice for that squad.

"I wasn't catching passes too well," Toews reflected with a growing laugh as Hockey Canada's three-day orientation camp rolled on Monday morning with a unique ball hockey walk-through. "Just the little things that should be easy; I was kind of over-thinking it."

The Canadian squad in Vancouver had a distinctive sage veteran feel about it. Only 20-year-old Drew Doughty was younger than the seemingly unflappable Toews. Those two were joined in an exclusive pocket of youth by the nation's eventual hero Sidney Crosby (also 21).

That will likely change in 2014.

Just as the NHL has been increasingly overrun by a pack of rabblerousing youth, so too will the band that represents Canada in Sochi. Gone from 2010 will be a future Hall of Fame class fronted by Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, the pair likely to be joined on the outside by an aging group that could include Brenden Morrow, Jarome Iginla, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and perhaps Martin Brodeur, Joe Thornton and even Dan Boyle.

Forcing their way into the mix this winter will be a fresh wave of Canadian talent, most prominently among them 23-year-old Steven Stamkos and 22-year-old John Tavares.
 
"I think if you probably look over the past five years, the guys that have come into the league, the impact they've had, you maybe didn't see that 10, 15 years ago," Stamkos, already a two-time scoring champ, told TSN.ca. "That's just the way the game's going.

"The Hockey Canada staff are looking to take the best players available regardless of age. It just so happens this year there's a lot more younger players. Not often do you win a gold medal and four years later have only a handful of guys that were on that team. I think it's a good thing for Canada and it's an exciting thing for me as one of the young guys to be here."

Tavares was still an NHL rookie in 2010, but made it a goal four years down the road to have his name in the competition for Sochi. "…knowing [it was] four years from then I thought it'd give me a lot of time to develop my game and keep getting better and improve and get on Team Canada's radar," he said.

Busting out with 28 goals and 47 points in 48 games in 2013 after 31 and 81 a year prior, Tavares is now atop the radar for Steve Yzerman and the Hockey Canada brass. The face of the Islanders franchise points to a revved up process of development as the primary reason for the insurgence of youthful talent.

"The development is so much greater and there's so much more exposure and more importance [placed] on things like nutrition and off-ice training," Tavares explained, "and that really wasn't there even 15, 20 years ago. It makes a big difference for a lot of us young guys when you're exposed to it all and you can see what it takes and you have a better understanding of what it is to be an impact [player] earlier in your career.

"Whether me, Steven, Taylor Hall, Matt Duchene, all these guys, I think we're talented hockey players and we're driven to be great players and want to succeed and want to be a part of stuff like this. I don't think you want to let your age hold you back, you want to take advantage of every opportunity you can."

"For me, having played in the NHL for five years now and gone through a playoff run and played in numerous world championships, you start to feel more comfortable in situations like this," Stamkos added.

Hockey Canada selected 47 players for this late August camp, a group that was peppered with waves of talent poised to contribute not only now but in the years to come. Taylor Hall (21), Jordan Eberle (23), Matt Duchene (22), Alex Pietrangelo (23), P.K. Subban (24) and Logan Couture (24), represent the present and future of Canadian Hockey.

There's no reason that one or perhaps a handful won't be able to contribute as early as 2014. As Toews demonstrated with an increasingly dominant performance in 2010 – leading the team with eight points – age often proves just a number.

"I was just looking to prove myself and I was confident that I was going to have a great season and play my way onto that team," the Blackhawks captain said of the lead-up to Vancouver, noting the expanded presence he eventually earned at the Games.

"I don't think you can let what others think or what they say about you worry you too much, it's all about what you believe. It sounds pretty cheesy, but I guess it's kind of the way you go about it. I'm sure there's some young guys here too that maybe all the media and all the people don't think that right now they're on paper [to make the team] … but if they play their way onto the team so be it. We want the guys that are really going and really want to be in that situation."
 
Youth be damned.



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