As I was flying home from Toronto during last night's sold out conclusion to Team Canada's 4-day camp with my brand new Olympic jersey (in red) stowed safely away in my carry-on bag, I couldn't help but wonder how the Flames' four invitees would perform. Turns out they were far from spectacular.
Iginla was outshone by linemates Sidney Crosby and Rick Nash until he was replaced by St. Louis, Phaneuf committed a glaring defensive zone error which led to a goal for Team White and was limited by the game's lack of physical play, as was Regehr. Bouwmeester, who like Scott Neidermayer, is at his best when he goes unnoticed, took an unnecessary tripping penalty against Jason Spezza. Is this simply off-season rust, or should Flames fans be worried? After all, Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Smyth, and even embattled winger Dany Heatley seemed to have no problem making an impact on Team Canada's management.
What could be the cause of this lackluster showing? Pressure to perform? Surely veterans of one or more Olympic games like Iginla, Regehr, and Bouwmeester wouldn't be intimidated by the competition and watchful eyes and expectations of fans and Canada's coaching staff? Could it be lack of motivation? Every Canadian player at any level would kill to lace up the skates for Canada, especially to avenge the Turin debacle that participants such as Iginla have been citing as a source of motivation all week. And the threat of injury? Regehr and Phanuef both claim to have fully recovered from late-season injuries, and Hockey Canada purchased full-coverage insurance policies for each player attending the camp in the event of an injury.
So what could possibly be deterring four of our best players from giving their all in an effort to impress the men who will ultimately determine their Olympic fate? The only one of that elite group who is considered a lock for the team is Iginla, drawing on his previous international experience and veteran status. Considering Canada's depth on defence, the other three are easily replaceable. If these players who account for the majority of Calgary's core are unable to commit to a system that will simply require a consistent effort and responsibility at both ends of the ice over a two-week period, how will they respond to Brent Sutter's similar coaching style come training camp?
Perhaps I'm overreacting to a game that will probably prove to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things (and I really wish I could've been there, it sounded awesome), but I feel as if Flames players could have used this opportunity, on home ice, to prove to their fans that they're not only ready for the Olympics, but ready for the season. On the contrary, I got the impression that we should expect another slow start to the 2009-10 season. With the Canucks shoring up their defence today with the additions of Schneider, Ehrhoff, and Lukowich, competition in the Northwest will be stiff. Training camp is quickly approaching, and the Flames will need Iginla, Regehr, Bouwmeester, and Phaneuf to be in top form if they are to make any noise in the West, let alone at the Olympics.