Speed being emphasized as Team Canada hits ice for first practice

GANGNEUNG, South Korea – Canada’s first practice at the Olympics was also its first practice together as a group, a crisp hour-long affair in which break-outs, zone entries and the power play were worked on before closing things out with a brisk white-versus-red shootout.

In good humour, the winner was in dispute.

“It was pretty cool,” defenceman Chris Lee said of hitting ice with the five rings on it. “The ice conditions weren’t great but … we were a little short-handed (at the training camp) in Riga, guys were showing the day of the game and jumping right into the games, so this was our first practice as a group and it felt good to get out there. It sinks in a little bit more when you finally get to go out and perform a little bit.”

Head coach Willie Desjardins echoed that sentiment, saying, “it’s about time we got here, everybody’s excited about that,” but there’s still some slog to trudge through before the bell rings for Canada’s opener next Thursday against Switzerland.

Friday’s practice hit many of the focal points the Canadians are emphasizing, such as leveraging their speed, having defencemen transition the puck quickly to their forwards and jumping in on the attack when opportune.

Desjardins described his defensive corps as “one of our strengths throughout” the team-building process and he wants them playing the type of two-way, speed game that’s the way of the NHL right now.

“You always want them tight (to the play),” he said. “The best way to play against speed is to get up there and play a tight gap. We want our D to be active on both ends of the rink. Our best chance of winning is being five guys up and five guys back.

“If we do that we’ve got a chance. If we don’t then it’s going to be tough.”