Commentary

Teams gear up for tournament

Updated: February 16, 2010, 9:43 AM ET
By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- It was practice day here at the Winter Olympics on the eve of the men's hockey tournament, and a couple of players who practiced at Canada Hockey Place were just happy to be here.

[+] EnlargeRyan Getzlaf
Andy Devlin/NHLI/Getty ImagesIt was a close call, but Ryan Getzlaf will be skating for Canada at the Games.

Ryan Getzlaf was confirmed as a Canadian Olympian after returning Sunday from a sprained ankle injury that kept him out of two games this week. American forward Patrick Kane was sent sprawling by Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Anton Stralman in a game Sunday and it looked like he might have hurt his knee.

"That's the first thing I thought of actually, was thinking about the Olympics," said Kane who took part in the Americans' practice Sunday. "At first I was like, I'm sure it's fine."

Sidney Crosby likewise set Canadian fans' hearts fluttering when he was struck in the foot by a Kevin Klein shot in the Pittsburgh Penguins' final game before the break.

"Yeah, it hurt. It stung for awhile. I wasn't happy," Crosby said after Canada's practice. "It was just one of those things I was waiting to see if it kind of gradually got better and it did. But I'm not stupid. It's the second period and I'm one period away from going to the Olympics. I wanted to make sure I was OK."

Don't expect Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook of Team Canada to spend a lot of time sightseeing and trekking off to other Olympic events.

"No, I want to win a gold medal," Seabrook said. "My mom and dad are staying down here with my girlfriend downtown at a hotel. They're going to take some events in. I don't know what they're going to do, but I'll leave that up to them. I want to go out and try and play well."

That's what cameras are for, no?

Forward lines

Some lines from practice Monday:

Team USA
Parise-Stastny-Kane
Malone-Pavelski-Kessel
Brown-Kesler-Langenbrunner
Ryan-Backes/Drury-Callahan

Team Canada
Nash-Crosby-Bergeron
Staal-Getzlaf-Perry
Marleau-Thornton-Heatley
Morrow/Richards-Toews-Iginla

Russia
Ovechkin-Datsyuk-Semin
Kovalchuk-Malkin-Afinogenov
Radulov-Fedorov-Kozlov
Morozov-Zinovyev-Zaripov

No Ovi

We would love to have brought you a fresh update on Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin but he blew off the media Monday.

"Doping, sorry guys," Ovechkin said as he rushed past the media.

Yes, it's true he was chosen by officials for a random doping test, but that doesn't mean he couldn't come back and talk to the media, which is what an Olympic organizer tried to get him to do. He declined.

Where's Washington Capitals senior PR man Nate Ewell when you need him?

More on Getzlaf

We're not sure we've ever seen Getzlaf smile so much than he did Monday evening after Team Canada's practice.

"I'm the happiest guy here," said the Anaheim Ducks star.

Just 12 hours earlier, he still wasn't sure if he was going to play in the Olympics, as his ankle injury cast doubt within Team Canada's ranks. But doctors cleared him Monday morning, and he was in heaven.

"It feels great," he said. "We had many meetings with the doctors and all that stuff. Our medical staff with Anaheim did a great job for me. I owe them a lot for why I'm here right now. This last week has been tough and today was the biggest relief in the world just to get out there on the ice with the guys."

Getzlaf understands why Team Canada boss Steve Yzerman and others were quite concerned.

"The nature of the injury scared everybody," he said. "It was a high-ankle sprain, and with that comes a scare that things won't be healing. I was fortunate enough that I had a rare occurrence with it and was able to heal properly."

And so he's in the Games, a tournament he couldn't stomach to miss.

"It means the world," said Getzlaf. "This is the biggest stage you can play on. To get together with this kind of group of guys, it may never come along again. That's why I'm so happy to be here."

Getzlaf fully understood he had to be absolutely honest with Team Canada. He had to put the team ahead of his wishes.

"No question, I definitely had to put those guys in the room ahead of my own priorities," said Getzlaf. "As well as my organization. My team [the Ducks] has invested a lot of time and money into me. I got to make sure I'm ready for the whole season, not just these two weeks. We were comfortable with that. It worked out the way we wanted."

There were some who thought that perhaps he should be rested against Norway on Tuesday, but head coach Mike Babcock said he would play.

"We talked to all our medical people … everyone thinks the best thing is for him to just keep plugging along," said Babcock.

Another happy guy

Like Getzlaf, Detroit Red Wings winger Johan Franzen was head over heels. He was officially added to the Swedish roster Monday morning.

[+] EnlargeJohan Franzen
Dave Reginek/NHLI/Getty ImagesJohan Franzen rebounded from a torn ACL in time for the Olympics.

"I finally got the call, yesterday around 11 a.m. I'm really happy," he said Monday after Sweden's practice.

There was serious doubt in October when he tore his ACL that he could be back in time for the Games. The time frame is usually 4-6 months. It was tight.

"It was my goal to come back around the Olympics," said Franzen. "I think tomorrow will be four months exactly from the day I got injured. I knew there was a chance. I've worked really hard to come back, and I made it back."

Swedish head coach Bengt Gustafsson tempered his excitement at adding a star player like Franzen.

"We also have a big loss with Tomas Holmstrom," said the Swedish coach. "I wouldn't say we upgraded, maybe we did in one way, but in another we downgraded. We're happy that Johan is here and we hope he's a big part of the team, just like we had hoped Tomas would be."

Slovak (injured) stars

Rangers star Marian Gaborik (leg laceration) did not practice Monday night, but Blackhawks stars Marian Hossa did.

It's not clear if either one will play Wednesday night in Slovakia's opener against the rival Czechs. Slovak coach Jan Filc said he was going to keep Gaborik off the ice and then make a game-time decision Wednesday night.

"Every day off is helping him recover," Filc said. "Gabby is a guy who has been working hard the whole year through, we don't think there is very special need of having him at every practice."

Both Hossa and Gaborik sat out their respective NHL games Sunday. Hossa, who got rocked by a hit from Pavel Kubina on Saturday, said he would take a baseline test (for concussions) Tuesday.

"If I pass the test and have a good practice tomorrow, I'll be cleared to play," Hossa said. "If not, I'll have to wait."

Mr. Doughty

Drew Doughty and Dan Boyle took turns taking drills as Chris Pronger's defense partner in practice Monday, leading to speculation that perhaps Doughty may not start the tournament as the seventh defenseman, after all.

"I never said Doughty was the seventh defenseman," said Team Canada coach Mike Babcock. "I think Doughty's been one of the best defensemen in the National Hockey League this year. I think he's that good. I'm so impressed with how he plays offensively and defensively. Is he going to be starstruck at this tournament? I don't believe that for a second."

Markov update

Russia's top defenseman Andrei Markov missed Montreal's last two games before the break but was out there Monday practicing with his Russian teammates. Still, he wouldn't confirm he would play Tuesday night against Latvia.

"We'll see tomorrow," he said.

Slumping goalies

Neither Roberto Luongo nor Martin Brodeur has been his usual self in the last few weeks, but Babcock isn't worried.

"I think we've got really good goaltenders," he said. "I've witnessed a lot of Olympic athletes this last little while, they haven't been all-world. So I think their focus will be very good. They're both proven. I think we're strong in net just like most countries."

Olympic legacy

No one on the U.S. team has the Olympic pedigree of Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter. His father, Bob, was a member of the 1980 "Miracle On Ice" team that upset the Russians and then beat Finland to win gold.

[+] EnlargeRyan Suter
John Russell/NHLI/Getty ImagesRyan Suter is following in his father's footsteps and looking for gold at the Games.

Suter's uncle, longtime NHLer Gary Suter, also won a silver medal with the U.S. team in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Only Ryan's father will be attending the Vancouver Games, and Ryan said there wasn't much Olympic chatter from either his father or his uncle leading up to the start of the tournament.

"They didn't really want to talk about it that much. They wanted me to experience it for myself and have fun with it. So I think they're kind of keeping quiet," Suter said.

"Either way, it doesn't matter to me. It would have been neat to find out some different things that they went through, and experiences. It's also neat I get to go into it with an open mind."

Suter has seen the Hollywood movie "Miracle" and he's watched the various documentaries on the 1980 team. Recently, he began going through tapes of the games.

"In the last three weeks, I've kind of been going through it watching it, bits and pieces of watching all of them," he said.

Friends, now enemies

One of the interesting dynamics at a tournament like this is for players who walked into dressing rooms on the weekend as teammates and then walked out opponents.

Like Suter and Canadian defenseman Shea Weber. The two Nashville teammates traveled separately into Vancouver.

"We just said, go have fun," Suter said.

U.S. defenseman Ryan Whitney and forward Bobby Ryan were expected to deliver the book on their Anaheim teammate, Jonas Hiller, who is the starting netminder for the Swiss team the U.S. will face in their first game Tuesday.

"Everyone was saying he's the guy that you've got to worry about," Whitney said. "He's a guy who can steal a game even if you get 50 shots on him. There's ways to beat him -- hopefully Bobby and I can spread the word."

By the end of the week, Whitney will also end up facing off against teammates Scott Niedermayer, Getzlaf and Corey Perry, all of whom play for Canada.

"It's a little weird. Obviously, it's a totally different setting and just a kind of different animal. Even this morning, I just saw Perry and Getzlaf sitting with a couple of Canada guys. You just say hi quickly. It's just different. Just last night you were hanging out with them playing a game. So it's really different, and I think it will take a little bit of just getting used to," Whitney said.

While Suter and Weber went their separate ways Sunday, Suter ended up sharing a cab and a flight with Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik, a U.S. teammate against whom he played Sunday.

"As weird as it is for you, it's the same for the guys in the other locker rooms. But yeah, it's weird. We played against Nashville yesterday and then I took a cab and a flight up here with Ryan Suter, so that's a little bit different," Orpik said.

"And then, obviously, some of the guys that I played with yesterday, then we go to the airport and go our opposite directions and then see each other today, but we're all wearing different colors. So it's a little bit different, but I think it's unique and I think it's what makes this tournament so much fun," Orpik said.

What the …

St. Louis defenseman Erik Johnson ordered 10 of his Olympic jerseys to frame and give to family and friends and to use for charitable events. The only problem was that when they arrived they all bore the captain's C.

"I ordered 10 from USA Hockey's Web site, and they sent them all back stitched and glued on, captain's C's. So I had to have our trainers in St. Louis remove them," Johnson said.

"I don't know what happened. I'm not really too worried about it."

The former No. 1 draft pick has overcome some considerable obstacles to be on this American Olympic team.

Johnson missed all of last season when he suffered a knee injury on the eve of training camp. Still, he was invited to the U.S. orientation camp outside Chicago in August and made the team that was announced on Jan. 1.

"When I got hurt last year, I didn't really think, 'Oh crap, I'm going to miss the Olympics now' -- it was, 'I'm going to miss the season,'" Johnson said. "But then, as the season ended, I go, 'The Olympics are right there' -- so I'm starting to think, 'Am I going to have a chance at this, am I going to recover and am I even in contention?'

"When I kind of think of being selected to the team, and how big of a hurdle that was to overcome to recover and come back strong and make the team, is I think a pretty respectable feat and something I'm really proud of."

Manning the power play

New York Rangers coach John Tortorella will be in charge of the U.S. power play, and it is a fine line to walk in a short tournament in terms of how long you give players to jell on the ice before you make changes.

"I look at it both ways. You don't want to knee-jerk and just change things around completely. But you also have to use your stomach," Tortorella said.

While he knows some of the players from having coached at the World Championships, Tortorella acknowledged there are others he doesn't know, like Johnson, and he will be waiting to see how they might fit into the U.S. power-play scheme.

"You learn along the way, but you don't want to keep on just throwing it back up in the air all the time. Sometimes when you feel that it should work you try and stay with it," Tortorella said.

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com.

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