Reporting from Calgary – Drew Doughty had trouble sleeping Tuesday night, knowing the announcement of Canada’s Olympic hockey team was due early Wednesday. When exhaustion overtook him he was out so cold he missed the call telling him he had made the roster for the Vancouver Games, getting the news only after Team Canada executive Doug Armstrong reached out a second time.
“I knew I had a shot at one of those last spots there,” Doughty said Wednesday. “Getting that phone call this morning was surprising but definitely one of my greatest moments.”
The selection of Doughty, the youngest player at 20, and the omission of 33-year-old Kings left wing Ryan Smyth signaled a sharp change of philosophy for Canada, which will be under intense pressure to win gold on home ice.
Emphasizing youth and two-way players who can blunt powerful offenses like Russia’s, Canada’s selection committee chose 15 first-time Olympians. Among them were Ducks linemates Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby–snubbed for the Turin Games–and Carolina standout Eric Staal.
Doughty, who attended Canada’s orientation camp in Calgary last summer, said he wasn’t sure he would stand out among many strong candidates.
“I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew I had a shot but I knew I was young and there’s a lot of great d-men trying out for the team,” he said.
He made it, as did Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer–appointed the team’s captain–San Jose’s Dan Boyle, Chicago’s Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger and Nashville’s Shea Weber. Omitted were Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr–considered shoo-ins last summer–and high-scoring Mike Green of Washington.
Doughty’s fear that his age might count against him proved unfounded in the face of his talent and outstanding performance in his first season and a half with the Kings.
“The great players get better so fast. He has unbelievable poise and he’s great in his own zone,” Team Canada Coach Mike Babcock said after the announcement was made in Saskatoon and televised across Canada.
“We decided he’s a great fit. He’s going to be a difference-maker. He can really shoot the pill.”
So can most of Canada’s forwards. Joe Thornton, the NHL’s top scorer through Tuesday’s games with 54 points, was chosen with San Jose teammates Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau. Boston scoring leader Patrice Bergeron (10 goals, 29 points) was the only mild surprise among the 13-man group; Columbus’ Rick Nash and Calgary’s Jarome Iginla were locks, as was Dallas’ gritty Brenden Morrow.
Philadelphia’s Mike Richards was thought to be on the bubble but picked up his play lately. Chicago’s Jonathan Toews can score and bring grit.
Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis didn’t make it. Nor did Edmonton’s Dustin Penner, who had opened some eyes with his 19 goals and 38 points but was hurt by his lack of international experience.
The goaltending selections were as expected: New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
“Without a doubt there are some very good players that could play on this team,” said Steve Yzerman, Canada’s executive director.
Yzerman and his colleagues didn’t entirely ignore the over-30 generation. Niedermayer, 36, will be part of the leadership group with alternate captains Crosby,22, Iginla, 32, and Pronger, 35.
“Getting an opportunity to represent Canada any time is a big thrill and great honor,” said Niedermayer, who won a gold medal with Canada in 2002 but missed the Turin Olympics because of an injury. “To have these Games played in my own country and my own province is a unique opportunity and an honor.”
Despite the Ducks’ struggles they had seven players named to three Olympic rosters Wednesday. That list is expected to grow Friday when Team USA announces a roster that should include winger Bobby Ryan and defenseman Ryan Whitney.
The other Ducks to get Olympic nominations Wednesday were Finnish forwards Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, Swiss goaltender Jonas Hiller and Swiss defenseman Luca Sbisa, who started the season with the Ducks but was returned to his junior team in Lethbridge, Canada.
This was the fourth Olympic selection for Koivu, who was appointed the team’s captain. It was the fifth for Selanne, who is recovering from hand surgery but is expected to return to the Ducks’ lineup soon.
“It’s going to be probably the best hockey tournament ever,” Selanne said. “I’m excited to be part of it.”
Said Hiller: “It’s a dream coming true, especially in Canada where hockey is so big.”
Kings Coach Terry Murray said Smyth was the first player in the locker room at the Saddledome for the morning skate Wednesday and was glued to the TV in hopes of hearing his name. Smyth had helped his cause with a good start but fell off the radar when he missed six weeks of the season because of a rib injury.
“Am I disappointed? Yes I’m disappointed. I would love to play for my country. It brings chills to my spine as I say it,” Smyth said. “I have a great deal of pride in putting on the Canadian jersey and I hope to for many more years.”
He could be an injury replacement–rosters need not be submitted until the evening before the Feb. 16 tournament start–but he won’t campaign for that.
“I believe they picked the 23 guys for a reason and I know there’s a lot of hockey between now and then,” he said. “You’ve just got to go out and play. If an accident happens, it happens. These guys are going to represent our country with pride and I’ll be their No.1 fan.”
He’s also a big fan of Doughty’s selection.
“I think he’s a tremendous pick,” Smyth said. “I got to experience playing with him over the course of this year and he’s nothing but raw talent. He plays well in his own zone.
“Everybody thinks he’s really offensively skilled, which he is, but he’s determined to play well in his own zone and when he sees a chance to jump up in the play he will and he’ll make a huge impact for that team.”
Iginla, who will face Doughty tonight when the Kings play the Flames, praised Doughty’s nomination too.
“He’s a great young d-man. We don’t get to see him a lot but what we’ve seen of him already this year he’s sure playing well,” Iginla said. “He runs their power play. He has so much composure on it. He’s a tough guy to stop.
“I really didn’t know what to expect but I can definitely see he’s had a great year and he’s deserving and a tough guy to stop.”
How tough? Kings captain Dustin Brown, a likely Team USA pick and Doughty’s road roommate, knows–and he said he plans to keep his head up when he plays against Doughty.
“I’ve just got to watch out for his butt. That’s all he seems to hit with, his hip checks,” Brown said. “I’m not too afraid of his body checks. It’s his hip checks. Probably 95% of his hits are with his rear end.”