BROSSARD – They may be united for a common goal now, but for two weeks in February, eight Habs players will go head-to-head with a gold medal on the line.
Ready to battle it out in the name of their nations, the Canadiens’ contingent that will be heading to Sochi was finalized on Tuesday morning. Since Max Pacioretty first heard his name announced as a member of the US roster following the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, Swiss defenseman Raphael Diaz, newly-minted Czech captain Tomas Plekanec and Slovak netminder Peter Budaj all received similar calls from their respective countries.
During the lead up to Team Canada’s highly-anticipated 11:00 a.m. announcement from the MasterCard Centre in Toronto – in which both P.K. Subban and Carey Price were given the nod – Russian blue-liners Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin’s names were quietly revealed when the host country posted their 25-man roster online.
“[The announcement] is not the same like you guys have,” cracked Markov, referring to the live TV event surrounding the release of the Canadian Olympic lineup. “I just checked the Internet and saw the roster, that’s it. I’m happy I’ll be there. It’s a big honor to represent your country at such a big tournament. I’m sure it’s going to be fun.”
Having already taken part at the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, Markov has an idea of what awaits him and his fellow countrymen in Sochi in February. Unlike his most recent trip to the Olympics in Vancouver, however, the All-Star blue-liner is expecting a much warmer welcome from the home crowd this time around.
“I know the people who are in charge have done a great job building everything from scratch and for the Russian people it’s a huge honor to have an Olympics there. It’s going to be a big celebration for the whole country and everybody is hoping for good results,” he described. “There’s definitely going to be a little more pressure for the Russian team, but I’ve spent 12 years in Montreal – you guys give us pressure every day.”
While the Russians may already be feeling the heat to win as the host nation, it’s hard to imagine expectations are higher for anyone than they are for the defending gold medalists.
“I really wouldn’t want to be the person who had to make the final decisions,” admitted Price, who will battle Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Phoenix’s Mike Smith for the starting job between the pipes for Canada. “There are really good hockey players that were left off that team, but at the same time we’ll have one heck of a hockey team. I’m excited to play with all of them. Every single player on that team is an elite player in the league and in the world.”
Joining Subban as the first Canadiens players to represent Team Canada at the Olympics since Shayne Corson and Mark Recchi donned the Maple Leaf in Nagano in 1998, Price is looking forward to earning international bragging rights alongside his longtime teammate.
“Obviously P.K. is one of the elite defenseman in this league. He’s a really good friend of mine and I’m really happy that he’ll be sharing that experience with me,” described the three-time All-Star, before joking that he’s planning on sitting as far away as possible from Subban on the flight over.
“Yeah, that’s not happening,” replied Subban with a chuckle. “[Carey] knows that’s not happening. We always seem to find each other, one way or another. Obviously Carey and I have had an opportunity to play together for a couple of years now and to represent our country is great.
“It’s extremely exciting when you can share this experience with a teammate. I’m very happy to do that with Pricey,” he added, before beginning his petition for a potential bunkmate. “I hope I get to room with him so I can snore and keep him up all night.”
Hitting the ice for practice less than an hour after receiving the coveted phone call from Kevin Lowe on Tuesday morning, Subban was still too busy soaking in the news in the dressing room to discuss his country’s chances of a repeat.
“It’s definitely an exciting time. The reality is there are so many players who deserve to be on this team, it’s crazy. Probably the toughest job right now is the job of [Canadian GM] Steve Yzerman in terms of selecting this team. We know a lot of people work hard but not everybody gets rewarded for it. When you do, you’re very thankful. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to put on the jersey and represent my country and having an opportunity to do something special.”
With roughly one-third of the Habs roster having earned their tickets to Russia for the Olympic break, the reigning Norris Trophy winner knows none of the team’s Olympians earned their spots in the lineup on their own.
“I don’t think I speak only for myself but for every other player in here who gets to represent their country at this Olympics when I say we’re benefactors of this team playing so well over the past two years,” stressed Subban, who will also count Habs equipment manager Pierre Gervais and director of media relations Dominick Saillant among friendly faces joining the Canadiens’ Canadian contingent in Sochi. “Huge credit to the organization and the coaching staff here for doing such a great job and putting us all in a position where we would have this opportunity.”
One of five British Columbia natives named to the Canadian team on Tuesday, Price has come a long way from his early days commuting nearly five hours for practice – each way – growing up. Like Subban, he realizes it takes a village to raise an Olympian.
“Coming from Anahim Lake, you don’t think playing in the Olympics is a possibility. But at the same time you want to make the best of your opportunities and if you work hard, anything can happen,” offered Price, whose father, Jerry, eventually started flying his son to practices in Williams Lake to cut down the travel time. “I want to thank my teammates first and foremost for playing so well in front of me and helping me so far this year to earn this spot. I really appreciate them for that.”
With the Olympic rosters finally set and the eight Canadiens Olympians now confirmed, the Habs have already gotten a head start on the next round of debates and discussions within the dressing room: who will be coming home with the shiniest hardware?
“Pacioretty was already chanting U-S-A on the ice today,” shared Subban with a laugh, also mentioning that he hasn’t received many helpful hints from the hosts on what to expect in Russia. “Marky isn’t talking very much right now. Maybe he’s already in Olympic mode. I’ve spoken to him on many occasions about Sochi and what it’s going to be like and he thinks it will be a great experience. I’ll definitely pick his brain on a couple more different things.
“It’s all fun. The reality is we’re all so happy for each other to have this opportunity,” he underlined. “It’s not just about us as players; for our families and friends they’re obviously very proud to be connected to that and all the people who have helped us get to this point in our careers are happy today. It’s a great opportunity for all of us and we’re happy to have it.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
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