USA defenseman Justin Faulk runs through a drill during a training session at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Olympics could help shape next generation of NHL stars


After all the buildup, the 2014 Winter Olympic men’s hockey tournament is finally about to get underway.

This tournament is about hockey’s best showing what they can do on the international stage, but it’s also an opportunity for a select group of highly talented young players to be exposed to a level of play that could help shape their careers.

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty would make that argument, given that he feels playing for Canada in 2010 changed him for the better.

“I’d never faced anything at that high of a level, nothing with that much pressure,” Doughty told CBC. “I’m a visual learner. I learned a lot watching Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger.”

Doughty was 20 years old at the time and while he was already clearly a great player, the following year he excelled in the postseason to play a key role in the Kings winning the Stanley Cup.

Canada doesn’t have a player quite that young on its roster this time around, but the United States has 21-year-old blueliner Justin Faulk and 22-year-old defenseman Cam Fowler on its squad. Meanwhile, 18-year-old Valeri Nichushkin will see first hand the type of pressure the Russian greats are under as they fight to win the gold at home.

Then there’s guys like 21-year-old Martin Marincin, who Zdeno Chara has promised to take under his wing.

So while this promises to be a memorable couple of weeks, the impact of these games could last far longer than that.

Goalie nods: Jones makes Sharks debut against ex-Kings mates

Martin Jones
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News and notes from around the crease…

Jones goes for San Jose

Martin Jones, acquired by the Sharks this summer, will make his first regular-season start for the club tonight against his old team — the Los Angeles Kings.

Jones, 25, spent the last two years in L.A. as Jonathan Quick‘s understudy. He was flipped to Boston at the NHL Entry Draft, then shipped to San Jose. Sharks GM Doug Wilson wasted little time locking Jones in — signing him to a three-year, $9 million extension — and Jones wasted little time locking up the No. 1 gig, putting together a stellar preseason.

For the Kings, Quick will get the start in goal.

Markstrom out for Vancouver

Jacob Markstrom wasn’t scheduled to start for the Canucks tonight — No. 1 Ryan Miller is getting the call — but the Swedish ‘tender won’t even dress when his club takes on the Flames in Calgary.

Markstrom suffered a lower-body injury at practice this week and is being held out of tonight’s action. In his place, the Canucks called up AHL netminder Richard Bachman, who’ll serve as Miller’s backup.

For the Flames, Karri Ramo is the opening-night starter.


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Here’s hoping 3-on-3 doesn’t degenerate into a boring ‘game of keep-away’

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Are coaches going to ruin 3-on-3 overtime?

It’s been the one, big worry since the NHL decided to change from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3 as a way to reduce the number of shootouts.

Via TSN’s Bob McKenzie, here’s a quote from an anonymous coach (talking about 3-on-3 strategy) that won’t exactly quell that worry:

“Really, it’s a game of keep-away, that’s what it is and the longer you can keep it away from the other team, the more likely they’ll break down. So I say let’s slow it down and hold onto that puck for as long as we can.”

Now take that a step further and imagine there’s a team that’s really good at shootouts. If you were coaching that team, might you tell your players to rag the puck for as long as possible to try and get to the skills competition?

Granted, five minutes is a long time to rag the puck. Not sure any team could play “keep-away” that long. Plus, there will always be teams that aren’t very good at the shootout; theoretically, those teams should be more willing to take their chances in 3-on-3.

But just remember that more time and space doesn’t always lead to more goals. Look at international hockey, which is played on a bigger ice surface. Canada won gold in Sochi by beating Latvia, 2-1, the United States, 1-0, and Sweden, 3-0. It was hardly firewagon hockey.

While nobody’s quite ready to suggest that 3-on-3 will actually lead to more shootouts, it will be interesting to see how things evolve, and if there are any unintended consequences.

“I don’t know if anyone’s figured it out completely yet,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said Saturday after losing in 3-on-3 overtime to Vancouver.

“The big thing is, you want to control the puck as much as you can. It’s 3-on-3, so there’s lots of room and space out there. You don’t need to give it away. I think it’s smart to just wait, take your time, and wait for a good opportunity.”