Most of the top players on the planet will be competing in the Olympic tournament that begins Tuesday in Vancouver.
Good thing, too, because there's little reason to believe that many of the teams they'll be playing for will be particularly well-schooled.
The simple truth is that the coaches of most national squads, at least those with a heavy presence of NHL players, have had little time to instruct personnel on the finer points of the systems they will be expected to execute.
Consequently, teams figure to stick to a fairly basic style, and count on players to be fundamentally sound rather than trying to win games with a lot of tactical wrinkles.
"In a tournament like that, you can't really put a lot of stuff in place," said Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, who will play for the United States. "You put in kind of a simple system. Either you're going to trap, or you're going to be an aggressive team.
"Ron Wilson [of the U.S.], obviously, is going to coach an aggressive team. If you watch the way Toronto plays, it's a high-energy system. If you're going to make a mistake, it's going to be an aggressive mistake. That's how we want to play. We're definitely not going to sit back."
Orpik said that during Team USA's orientation camp in suburban Chicago last summer, there was more of an emphasis on team-building -- getting players to be familiar and comfortable with one another -- than on the technical aspects of what the squad will try to do.
That's an approach Orpik endorsed, even though spending a few days with Olympic teammates is not the same as practicing and playing alongside them for an extended period.
"The hardest part about this is, it's guys you haven't played with before," he said. "When you haven't played with guys, you don't know their tendencies, and there isn't time to adjust.
"You only get one practice [before the games start]. In a two-week tournament, it's kind of a sprint to see who wins it."
Given the option, right winger Bill Guerin would be flying to Vancouver today, preparing to represent the United States in yet another international competition.
He wasn't chosen for the Olympic team this time, however, and will have to settle for spending a few days on a some sun-splashed beach, hundreds of miles south of the nearest snowdrift.
That doesn't mean Guerin will devote the nine-day Olympic break to nothing more strenuous than working on a tan, however.
"You take 10 days totally off, for me, anyway, you'd see it in my gut," he said, chuckling. "It would be tough to stickhandle around."
Guerin's willingness to work, to sweat and strain to keep himself ready to compete, is what keeps him in the league at age 39, and makes it realistic for him to talk about playing again in 2010-11.
"That definitely takes a lot of willpower," he said. "When you talk about a grind, that's a grind. Throughout the summer, you have to get your [rear] out of bed and get to the gym."
He agreed that players retire because they no longer want to do the work required to get ready to play, not because they've lost the desire to participate in games.
"You'd have 67-year-old guys playing in the league, if that was the case," he said. "It becomes tougher, but it's something you just keep on doing. You have to understand that, too. 'The more I do this, the better chance I'm going to have of playing for a long time.' "
Most indications are that Marc-Andre Fleury will enter the Olympics as Canada's No. 3 goaltender, backing up Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo.
Logical as that might be, there is one factor that could encourage Canadian coach Mike Babcock and his staff to give Fleury a little extra consideration: His success in shootouts.
Fleury enters today's game against Nashville with a 5-0 record in shootouts in 2009-10, having stopped 14 of the 15 shooters he's faced.
Because games in the Olympics can be settled by shootouts -- Canada lost a gold medal to Sweden in one in 1994 -- Fleury's success this season can only be a positive for him.
Even Fleury, though, isn't convinced that his shootout record should be a significant factor when decisions are made about which goalie Canada should rely on.
"You usually don't win hockey games in a shootout," he said. "You try to do it in 60 minutes."
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari can be reached at email@example.com . First Published February 14, 2010 5:00 AM