Canada’s youth read for Olympic debut

Canada’s next generation of international hockey talent will debut at the 2010 Winter Olympics, if this week’s orientation camp is any indication.

Goalie Martin Brodeur stops Sidney Crosby on the door step during a scrimmage in Calgary

CALGARY — Canada’s next generation of international hockey talent will debut at the 2010 Winter Olympics, if this week’s orientation camp is any indication.

Some of Canada’s usual suspects for big international events were at camp: Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Ryan Smyth and Martin Brodeur. But other international stalwarts such as Rob Blake, Adam Foote, Wade Redden, Ed Jovanovski and Joe Sakic were not.

Canada’s next Olympic team looks younger, particularly on the back end, than the 2006 edition. Names such as Sidney Crosby, Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Mike Green, Duncan Keith, Marc and Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews and Marc-Andre Fleury are coming on-line.

Of the 46 players invited to the four-day camp that concluded Thursday in Calgary, 19 of them were 25 years old or younger.

Head coach Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings was repeatedly asked how he would balance the influx of youth with experienced players on his Olympic team next February.

“Some veteran leadership goes a long way,” he said. “We don’t want kiddy court there either. One thing I know by coaching in a pressured environment like Detroit, it’s harder to do it with kids.

“You need some veteran leadership and we’re fortunate in this group we have that.”

The prevailing opinion of Canada’s quarter-final exit at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, was that the team was too old and too injured to score. The pendulum will likely swing the other way in Vancouver with a handful of veterans asked to guide a group of 20-somethings.

Three-time Olympian Brodeur agrees that players such as Crosby, Fleury and Jordan Staal, who helped Pittsburgh win a Stanley Cup this year, are attractive choices for 2010, but also sounds a cautionary note.

“These are the guys who are dominating the NHL right now. Obviously you’ve got to go with the best players and guys who are at the top of the league,” Brodeur said.

“Definitely there will be somewhat of a change, but there’s lots to be said for experience. You’ve got to go into this competition knowing how to win also.”

Doughty just turned 20 earlier this month and was the youngest player invited. The Los Angeles Kings defenceman admitted to pre-camp nerves at the thought of playing alongside idols Niedermayer and Pronger.

“I was thinking about that coming in, if I should be giving them the title of ‘Mr,”’ Doughty said. “It’s been pretty cool to be with them.”

Canada’s junior men’s hockey team of 2005 has eight players at this camp. That team dominated the world junior championships that year.

Four years later, forwards Crosby, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Jeff Carter and Ryan Getzlaf and defenceman Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook and Shea Weber are among the pool of players for 2010.

“We knew it was a great team, but we didn’t know how good it was going to be and when you have eight guys here, it’s something special,” Perry said.

Richards, the captain of that team and the current captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, says the abundance of players from that team and Canadian junior teams that came after them has actually helped the youngsters at camp feel comfortable.

“There’s a lot of people that you know here and it’s nice to have those people going through the same scenario as you are,” he said.

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