When it comes to the center position, Team Canada is stacked.
That's something Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene and many other forwards realized this past week at Canada's pre-Olympic orientation camp.
"This team is so strong down the middle that you could probably put 12 guys in that position," said Duchene after Monday's camp session in Calgary, Alberta.
What that means for Duchene and many other Canadian centers is that they will have to be open to playing on the wing and be able to beat out the best Canadian wingers if they want to make the final 23-man roster for the February Olympics.
Luckily for the Haliburton, Ontario native, playing on the wing isn't unfamiliar to him as he's played the position before in his four NHL seasons and has had success at it, both in even-strength and power-play situations.
"I've played a bit of wing in the past and I'm comfortable there," Duchene said. "Having a center background also makes you a little more responsible defensively I think."
Duchene said the key to playing on the wing is to not do too much.
"As a center, you play the full 200 feet, and at wing you don't play as much of the ice," he said. "I think it is just staying in your area but being disciplined at the same time."
Like many other international squads, Canada didn't hold any on-ice practices, but that didn't stop them from holding "off-ice practices" in tennis shoes and with a rubber ball on the arena floor of Markin MacPhail Centre.
The deadline for international teams to submit their Olympic roster is Dec. 31, meaning the majority of the team will be chosen based on each player's performance during the first few months of the NHL season. However, that knowledge didn't stop the players from working at a high pace and putting out their best effort to try and impress the coaches during the walk-throughs.
"It wasn't a stroll in the park I guess," said Duchene after the training session. "It was a little difficult, but everyone is trying to grasp the systems, and obviously we are on shoes and running with the ball, which is not what we are used to. There is no glide out here at all."
Duchene's ability to play wing and his strong defensive abilities, especially in open ice, will be key in his attempt to make Canada's national team and help defend the Olympic gold they won in 2010 at home in Vancouver.
The Canadians haven't fared well on the international-sized ice sheet, which is 15 feet wider than its NHL counterpart, and will be the surface in Sochi, Russia. Canada finished seventh overall at the 2006 Olympics, and the team hasn't medaled at the world championships since 2009 (silver) and hasn't won gold since 2007.
Duchene though has had success on the big ice previously, as he finished second on the team in goals (four) this past May at the world championship.
However, the Avalanche forward said the biggest thing for the Canadians wouldn't be adjusting to the larger sheet of ice but being able to come together as a group quickly in the two-week tournament.
"It's all going to be chemistry," he said. "The biggest thing with teams like this is finding that chemistry early and finding something that works in the tournament. In the past, on the big ice, Canada has always had a hard time scoring just because of the size of the ice. But chemistry is so big during such a short tournament."
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