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Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Green and Robidas: Two defensemen on different paths, but their Olympic goal is the same


CALGARY, Alberta -- One was a Norris Trophy candidate last season. The other almost stayed in Europe after the NHL lockout.

Washington's Mike Green and Dallas' Stephane Robidas. Talk about two ends of the spectrum. And yet, both have a lot to prove this week at the Canadian Olympic hockey camp, and beyond, in their bid to make the 23-man roster.

Let's be honest. There was hardly a bigger surprise on Canada's 46-man camp list than Robidas, the 32-year-old, hard-as-nails blueliner who has persevered like few other NHLers. Waived, traded for futures, he has had a heck of climb up the mountain.

"It's been a long way," Robidas told ESPN.com this week.

I vividly remember talking to him eight years ago when he was a surprise addition to Canada's team at the 2001 world championship in Hannover, Germany, a team that had the likes of Vincent Lecavalier, Joe Thornton, Brad Richards, Ryan Smyth, Patrick Marleau, Steve Sullivan, Brenden Morrow, Derek Morris, Eric Brewer, Brad Stuart and Wade Redden. For Robidas to make that team as a rookie was impressive, and I never thought an Olympic camp invite would await him eight years later.

Just four years ago when the NHL lockout ended, the former seventh-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens figured he would stay overseas, where he headed during the work stoppage.

"I signed a contract in Germany for after the lockout because I didn't know if I was going to get an NHL job," Robidas said. "Dallas eventually called [in August 2005] and signed me for the minimum."

"We had him prior [2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons] and coming out of the lockout, we thought there would be a premium on skating and that size wouldn't be as dominant a force for defensemen as it was prior to lockout," said former Stars GM Doug Armstrong. "And we knew his character. Coming back in, he seized that opportunity."

Armstrong, now an executive with the St. Louis Blues and part of Team Canada's management team, said you can't help but cheer for a guy like Robidas.

"He's one of those players that everyone pulls for because he does it on heart and character and grit," said Armstrong. "He's gained the attention of lot of people around the league."

Now, Robidas is practicing with some of the world's top players and was invited to camp ahead of players like Stuart, Redden, Bryan McCabe, Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell, among others.

Robidas' 26 points (3-23) last season won't blow anybody away, but his real strength is his overall game: He's smart with the puck, an excellent skater and as tough as they come. Team Canada's brain trust doesn't want to put together an All-Star team for the Olympics, but rather a complete team.

Still, he's a long shot to make the 2010 squad and he knows it.

"It's not going to be easy," said Robidas. "My goal is to make the team. Hopefully, I'll be here in Vancouver.

"I mean, if you ask most of the writers, I don't think most people give me a chance to make this team. I'm OK with it. That's fine with me. Just having a chance to be here is a big, positive step."

From the underdog to the big name with the big shot, Mike Green is certainly no lock to make this team at this point, either. That's because a magical regular season that produced 31 goals and 73 points (tops among all NHL blueliners) was followed by a forgettable playoffs.

"Tough for myself," Green said without hesitating this week when asked about the postseason. "Obviously, we fell short as a team. Next year, we'll be ready and I'll be ready for the playoffs."

There were questions about Green's fitness level. He simply wasn't the same blueliner come playoff time. He lacked confidence with the puck. I won't soon forget the night of the Capitals' Game 7 second-round loss to the Penguins. A distraught Green never came out to talk to the media, likely devastated by what he knew was a subpar playoff performance.

But that was yesterday. He's got this week's camp and the first two months of the NHL regular season to show he's worthy of Steve Yzerman's attention come December.

"I just want to prove myself. I'm still young," said the 23-year-old. "I'm just trying to have fun and make my name out there. I'm just happy to be at this camp and I'm learning as much as I can in case something good happens in December. But I'm just having fun and getting to know the guys.

"I'm a sponge right now trying to soak up everything."

This will be a tough blue line to crack for Green. Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger are locks, leaving five spots open with leading candidates such as Duncan Keith, Dan Boyle, Shea Weber, Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook and Robyn Regehr. Green needs a big opening two months to get into that mix.

As for the Caps, they had to watch the rival Pens win it all. That's motivation enough for this season.

"To go seven against them and fall short the way we did makes it real difficult to watch," said Green. "But you know, we're a young club in Washington and you learn from that. Each year, we're getting more experience and we're getting closer to that Cup.

"Next year, I have a really good feeling about our club."