Botchford: Hamhuis has a shot at Canada’s Olympic team
Defenceman has been invaluable for the Canucks, and his left-hand shot is a bonus
CALGARY — St. Louis Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo wanted to know if he made TSN’s projected Olympic roster.
He wasn’t alone.
There are 46 NHL players in Calgary for Hockey Canada’s gathering of stars without ice. Only half of these guys at the Team Canada orientation camp will actually be in Russia for the Olympics.
That leaves a lot of players counting up skill sets, and taking head counts and wondering, like the rest of us, if there is room for what they bring individually on this roster in Sochi.
Dan Hamhuis has a shot. The unheralded, quiet leader of the Canucks blueline got the Olympic camp invite in July, just like he did in 2009. In the end, he was left off the 2010 team, but there’s reason to think this year could be different.
Hamhuis’s game is, well, noiseless. This is a good thing. It’s been invaluable for the Canucks. The injury that knocked him out of the Stanley Cup final in 2011 will never get the attention it should as possibly the biggest reason Vancouver lost the series to Boston. Without his hushed, effective puck moving, the Canucks folded in their own end.
It may be hard to appreciate Hamhuis fully, unless of course you’re sitting back and watching the smooth, left-shooting blueliner regularly.
Maybe that’s why Vancouver resident Ray Ferarro was the one TSN pundit pushing the possibility Hamhuis not only makes this team, he makes it as a starter, and the third left-side blueliner.
You can make a fascinating case for Vancouver’s No. 2 defenceman. The only left-shooting lock on Canada’s blueline is Duncan Keith. The right-side is loaded with Drew Doughty, Kris Letang, Pietrangelo, Brent Seabrook, P.K. Subban and Shea Weber.
The left side is so much roomier. After Keith there’s Jay Bouwmeester, Marc Staal, Marc-Édouard Vlasic Marc Methot, Dion Phaneuf and Karl Alzner. There are a lot of quesiton marks in that group.
Steve Yzerman has made it clear there’s definitely room for a consistent, positional lefty whom his coaches can trust at even strength and on the penalty kill.
Hamhuis is nothing if not reliable. He’s also experienced on the big ice, having played for Team Canada six times in Europe.
“I’ve always enjoyed the international game,” Hamhuis said. “I love the big ice. I love the room. It’s a puck-possession game on that big ice and it’s a challenge to defend but I enjoy that.
“I’ve been working a lot on my skating. I’ve been trying every year to become a better skater. With all that room, you have to have guys who can skate.
“Hopefully, I can fill that role.”
Hamhuis was paired with Subban Monday for some of the drills head coach Mike Babcock was running his two groups through as they played ball hockey on the concert floor at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Canada Olympic Park.
The players haven’t been skating because of some bizarre insurance concerns. Apparently, it was going to cost $1.2 million to insure the group at this camp. Yet, over at UBC, several Canucks skated on their own Monday, and you better believe if any of them got injured their contracts would be fully insured.
Subban would be an intriguing partner for Hamhuis, who could hold the fort down defensively to let the Norris Trophy winner to run wild.
Having a young, risk-taking, offensive player like Subban with Hamhuis has the potential to be a solid third pairing for Canada.
“There is an adjustment over there,” Hamhuis said. “With the bigger ice, sometimes you have to be more patient, and more conscious holding the middle of the ice.
“You can get lost on the outside of the rink a lot, and leave the middle open. That’s going to be a big thing for our defence.”
Hamhuis said he understands the final decision will have more to do with how he plays with the Canucks in the first half of the season than anything which happens in Calgary.
“An Olympic experience would be right up there with the Stanley Cup final,” Hamhuis said. “I’ve had the opportunity to play for Canada seven times and this would the pinnacle.”
Hamhuis’s most intriguing teammate here in Calgary is, without question, Roberto Luongo, who is again the Canucks starting goaltender.
“I felt bad for him during the past few months having to deal with everything,” Hamhuis said. “He’s still getting his head around being the starter again in Vancouver.
“Talking to him, we both just want to get this season going and get all of this behind him. Right away in training camp, there will be a few media days for him. But after that, it’s behind him.
“As soon as the puck drops in the first game, he’s our guy. There are no more goalie controversies.
“We’re lucky. Even though we traded one of the best goalies in the league, we still have one of the best goalies in the league.”
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