Calgary -- The last time
And the last time
Making teams are for other guys, not the gifted and precocious and iconic. But as Canada Red and Canada White departed the Pengrowth Saddledome after Day 2 of the Most Serious Olympic Hockey Orientation Camp in the world, it seemed apparent that there would not be room for the both of them next February.
Of all the subplots that suffuse this three-plus days of fun and occasional games -- TSN hockey host
If you pencil in
There are other natural centers in the 46-man camp who can easily shift to the wing --
The goings-on here and especially the first three months of the NHL season will be a referendum on two of the most notable players of their generation.
Lecavalier has had the better start at camp, skating well and shooting the puck with more authority than he has in the past two years. Thornton, while still clever, seems more lugubrious on the ice. On a team that Babcock intends to build around speed and playing 200 feet, Lecavalier looks to have an advantage -- or at least as much of an advantage as anyone can in August.
Lecavalier and Thornton are linked by more than a virtual cross-conference NHL competition for a spot on one of the toughest teams in the world to make. They share symmetry if not necessarily a history, a past that does not quite echo the other -- Lecavalier played for a Stanley Cup-winner and Thornton has famously never come close -- but one that has tiptoed down otherwise eerily similar tracks.
Thornton was the first overall pick in the 1997 NHL draft. Lecavalier, of course, followed a year later in that same lofty spot. The early years of their careers were hardly sanguine for either. Lecavalier, whom the Tampa Bay Lightning's owner of the day proclaimed to be hockey's
Lecavalier was a whipping boy of former Lightning coach
But as they moved into their mid-20s, they had become virtual Team Canada locks. Thornton was excluded from the 2002 Olympic team (just as
Meanwhile, Lecavalier, coming off his Stanley Cup win in 2004, was one of the first names anyone in Canada jotted down before that pre-NHL lockout tournament that September. While Canada was snubbing Crosby and choosing Staal as a taxi-squad guy for the 2006 Olympics, Big Vin and Jumbo Joe were automatics to provide points and conspicuous strength up the middle.
But after Canada suffered a humiliating shutout against Switzerland and was blanked again by Russia in the quarterfinals, the paradigm shifted overnight. An overhaul was in order. So it hardly matters that Thornton, the NHL's Hart Trophy winner in 2005, has the most points post-lockout. (He has one more than
"Last summer I couldn't really train the way I wanted," Lecavalier said. "It was a tough year for myself and the whole organization. When you finish last (in the NHL), it's never fun. For five or six years, we had the same group of guys, a core group that had the chance to get to know each other. Last year I got to Tampa, I felt like I was the one who got traded. This year we're going to get to know each other better. That's why we're doing this here -- getting to know each other. That's how you get to be a team, how you gel.
"With the new Canadian young guys, it's a lot of competition. There are a lot of great centermen. But I'm very motivated to make this team. Just to be part of this team is very special. Whether it's taking draws in the defensive zone -- I'm not saying I'm that good on draws -- or whatever, I'll do it. Whatever they want."
The attitude is a reflection of Team Canada executive director
"Of course any player will do anything he's asked to make this team," Thornton said. "You see the guys here and you say, 'Damn, there could be two pretty good teams here.' But I really never have played wing. If I make it, it'll be at center."
Thornton's best hope is a sizzling start, certainly a possibility given the Sharks' sour first-round playoff defeat by Anaheim and the subsequent fallout in which Marleau lost the captaincy and Thornton was busted from alternate. (Thornton said this week that the decision by coach
This vast country isn't big enough for the both of them.