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In Sochi, even star players must know their roles

Feb 11, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT

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SOCHI, Russia — Steve Yzerman was asked Monday what the biggest adjustment his collection of star players would have to make to have success at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Not surprisingly, given he just got off a long flight from North America, Team’s Canada’s architect called the time change “a huge difference, number one.” And as countless others had already done, he referenced the larger ice surface, too.

But the “biggest difference” for the players? According to Yzerman, that was going to be “playing a lesser role” compared to what they were used to with their NHL clubs.

“You’ve got forwards that are used to playing 21, 22 minutes a game that are going to play 10 and 11, and defensemen that are used to playing 27 playing 18,” he said. “That’s a huge adjustment for them.”

Take Jamie Benn, the captain of the Dallas Stars who’s used to hopping over the boards for 25 shifts a night and being out there for every power play.

On Team Canada, his role is going to be dramatically different.

“I think I’m going to see a lot more of a PK role, checking line,” the first-time Olympian said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

In fact, he agrees his role may be similar to what the last Stars captain before him, Brenden Morrow, had with Team Canada in Vancouver – get in on the forecheck and “make things happen.”

Said Mike Babcock of Morrow in 2010: “He’s one of those guys that’s got real good hockey sense, but he’s satisfied to be a grinder on this team. He’s added energy.”

Adjusting to “lesser” roles isn’t just an issue for star-studded Canada, as United States coach Dan Byslma made clear Tuesday.

“Look at the defensemen that we have here,” said Bylsma. “Most of them are accustomed to playing 23-plus minutes, 24-, 25-plus minutes for their own respective teams.

“When you’re putting seven defensemen on your bench and onto the ice, I can’t do the math really quick, not everybody can play 23 minutes and [Ryan Suter] play 30, 33, 34 minutes that he sometimes does for his NHL team.”

Byslma still expects Suter to play upwards of 25 minutes a game in Sochi, so it may not be a huge adjustment for him. But it will for at least a few of the other guys.

Of the eight defensemen on the U.S. roster, Kevin Shattenkirk has the lowest average ice time, logging 20:24 per game for the Blues.

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