The international star of the Vancouver Olympics might end up being an irresistible figure skater or a charismatic skier.

It’s a safe bet no athlete or team, though, will match the Canadian hockey team’s rock-star like following.

Coach Mike Babcock said he and his star-studded roster will be ready.

“This is our game in this country and our passionate fans have bought 17,000 tickets for our scrimmage,” Babcock said Thursday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “All summer, I’ve been getting a taste for how fired up people are because everywhere I go people are asking, ‘Who’s on the team? Who are you going to play with Sidney Crosby?’

“I don’t think the passion and expectations are going to sneak up on anybody.”

Babcock says it has been a “fantastic” experience to be surrounded by some of the game’s best players and coaches during this week’s four-day orientation camp in Calgary, Alberta.

Hockey Canada executive director Steve Yzerman invited 46 players to gather for practices and off-the-ice bonding in the hopes of creating chemistry the team lacked during an awful showing at the 2006 Turin Games.

In mid- or late December, the 23-man roster will be picked.

“I’d prefer not to say how many guys we expect to be on the team,” Yzerman said. “But a few guys you would assume would be on it.”

Sidney Crosby, for one, has a spot locked up and likely will be on a line with Rick Nash – a duo Babcock already likes together – and perhaps Jarome Iginla.

Yzerman, a former Detroit Red Wing who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this year, will select and shape a roster with some help from Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, Edmonton Oilers executive Kevin Lowe and St. Louis Blues executive Doug Armstrong.

Holland said the orientation camp plays an important part of the process, even though players are not necessarily being evaluated.

“It’s been an opportunity to bond on the ice each day, and then at the dinner table, on the golf course and out fishing,” Holland said. “We expect to have only one practice as a full team when we get to Vancouver, so this also gives us an opportunity to expose the players to things such as how we plan to handle the power play and penalty kill.

“We’re also working on logistics such as handling tickets for family and getting their sizes for clothes and gear. So when they land in Vancouver, they can focus on just playing hockey.”

Yzerman said this week was not the right time to give tips on handling the hype and expectations the team will be engulfed with in February.

“We’ll wait to address that topic until the final roster is set and we’re back in Vancouver,” he said.

Crosby, who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Babcock-led Red Wings for the Stanley Cup in June, was left off the previous Olympic team by Wayne Gretzky.

Gretzky chose to stick with some veterans in their mid-30s from the gold-medal winning team in Salt Lake City instead of adding younger and faster players such as Crosby, Jason Spezza and Eric Staal to keep up with quicker European teams.

It didn’t work out.

A team full of NHL standouts was shut out in three of its last four games, including a 2-0 defeat against the speedy Russians in the quarterfinals.

The Canadians lamented the fact that they didn’t have much time to mesh together as teammates or friends before competing in Italy.

Yzerman, a Red Wings executive, is confident Babcock will figure out a way to get the most out of the team after watching him closely in Detroit.

“He’s been successful at every level, including internationally,” Yzerman said. “He’s also a strong leader and personality and that’s something we’ll need as we’re heavily scrutinized in Vancouver.”


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