Canada invites Penguins' Kunitz to Olympic camp



Left winger Chris Kunitz missed the call from Canadian Olympic team executive director Steve Yzerman, but he described it as "an honor to listen to the voicemail."

Then he put his phone to more good use and began picking Penguins linemate Sidney Crosby's brain via text message about what the Team Canada Olympic orientation camp is like.

"I'm just really excited I got the invite," Kunitz said Monday, the day eight Penguins were asked to attend their country's Olympic orientation camp in advance of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

In addition to Crosby -- who scored the overtime goal that clinched the gold medal for Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Games -- and Kunitz, defenseman Kris Letang and right winger James Neal are on the roster for Canada's camp Aug. 25-28 in Calgary.

Center Evgeni Malkin, who has played in the past two Olympics, was invited to Russia's camp Aug. 23-24 in Sochi. Also on the Russian invitee list is former Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar.

Defensemen Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, and winger Beau Bennett are on the roster for a Team USA camp Aug. 26-27 in suburban Washington. Orpik was a silver medalist in Vancouver, and Martin played in the 2006 Olympics. The 2014 team will be coached by the Penguins' Dan Bylsma.

In addition, Team USA invited forward Brandon Saad, of Gibsonia and the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, and goaltender John Gibson, a Whitehall native and Anaheim Ducks prospect who was named MVP of the world junior championships last winter as the Americans won the gold medal.

Previously, it was announced that Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen is on Finland's preliminary Olympic roster. He played in the 2006 Games.

Noticeably absent from the Team Canada camp roster is Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who served as the No. 3 goalie in 2010, but did not play. He has struggled the past couple of years in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Also missing from Canada's invitees is former Penguins winger Jarome Iginla, who has played in past three Olympics.

Kunitz, Letang, Neal and Bennett would be first-time Olympians for the Penguins if they make the cut.

The Olympic camps will help organizers determine their 25-man rosters, which must be submitted by Dec. 31. Players whose stock rises can be named to Olympic teams even if they were not invited to their country's orientation camp.

Crosby predicted last week that teams probably won't finalize their rosters until after seeing how players perform through the first half the upcoming season.

One factor that could weigh into personnel decisions is that Olympic hockey this time returns to the larger international ice surface. It was played on an NHL-sized rink in 2010 in Vancouver.

"It's definitely a different game," Crosby, who has played overseas many times, said of the bigger sheet. "It's a little bit more of a puck-possession game. There's a lot more time with the puck. I think making decisions, the way you play, your systems, there's definitely going to be an adjustment there.

"I think speed will be even more important with that big ice. Physical play is always important, but, with the bigger ice, it's probably going to be a little tougher to establish that, so I think speed and skill are really going to be a big part of that game."

Kunitz agreed, although he has little experience playing on the expanded rinks.

Only three skaters on the Canadian camp roster are older than Kunitz, 33, whose international experience playing for his country is limited to the 2008 world championships.

"It's all new to me," Kunitz said. "I'm just really glad I got the invite."

Kunitz plays with a physical edge and is vigilant about getting in front of the net, a style that isn't always rewarded with a spot in the Olympics, but in the three seasons since the most recent Olympics he has 71 goals, 161 points in 196 games while developing tremendous chemistry with Crosby.

"I don't usually change too much; I'm in a pretty good niche the way I can play," Kunitz said. "Maybe the last few years I contributed a little more on offense."

Still, he said, getting invited to Canada's camp "was a huge surprise, just looking at the names of the guys, the young talent. It's a huge honor for me."

Team Canada also announced that the Detroit Red Wings' Mike Babcock will return as head coach, along with three associates from the NHL: St. Louis' Ken Hitchcock, Boston's Claude Julien and Dallas' Lindy Ruff.

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For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published July 23, 2013 4:00 AM


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