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Team Canada hints at Olympic lines during ball hockey practice

https://twitter.com/EricFrancis/status/372032528074305536

By Allan Muir

You can keep 'em off the ice, but you can't stop 'em from playing hockey.

Insurance costs are preventing Canada (and every other nation) from skating during this week's Olympic orientation camps, so the coaching staff decided to send the boys out on an ice-free international-sized rink to get a feel for how the big sheet will impact the way they play.

It might sound silly at first, but it makes a lot of sense, given the challenges and changes they'll face in Sochi if they're lucky enough to make the club.

All that said, it's not the drills that are attracting attention.

It's the line combinations.

Meaningless? To some degree, sure. But this might be a first look into the mindset of the coaching staff as it tries to properly fit the pieces of this puzzle together. And, in Canada anyway, that qualifies as big news.

Here's how they came out for the first session. They all look pretty stout, but the first and third lines? Whoa.

Eric Staal - Jonathan Toews - Rick Nash

Andrew Ladd - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry

Logan Couture - John Tavares- Steven Stamkos

Mike Richards - Jeff Carter - Martin St.Louis

On the blueline, Marc Staal was paired with Drew Doughty, Dion Phaneuf with Brent Seabrook, and Jay Bouwmeester with P.K. Subban, while Alex Pietrangelo, Travis Hamonic and Dan Hamhuis rotated in the fourth pairing.

UPDATE: The second grouping is on the floor now. Here's how they're lining up:

Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Patrick Sharp (second happiest guy in Canada right now)

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Jordan Eberle

Milan Lucic - Matt Duchene - James Neal

Taylor Hall - Jordan Staal - Dylan Walchuk

(Who is Dylan Walchuk, other than a guy who is favored above all today by the hockey gods? He's a University of Calgary player who was invited to fill the spot vacated by Joe Thornton, who was forced to pull out of his camp commitment because of a family medical emergency.)

UPDATE 2: Coach Mike Babcock warned not to read too much into the lines from the walk-through today. He said they were "intended to throw people off." Which is exactly what you'd expect someone to say if they were trying to double-triple fool people. So crafty, that Babcock...

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The D pairs are Duncan Keith and Shea Weber, Kris Letang with Marc Methot, Dan Boyle and Marc-Edourd Vlasic, and Karl Alzner with Mike Green.

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