SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Canada's quest is to win Olympic gold in hockey again.
Its immediate mission, though, is different.
Canadian coach Mike Babcock said his goal for the team's first practice on Monday afternoon was simple after a long night of traveling.
"Keep the players up," Babcock said. "To be honest with you, it's been a long day. We had an opportunity to see how big the ice is and to go through some things."
Babcock saw something he didn't like when he put Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter together with Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby and one of his NHL linemates, Chris Kunitz.
Carter shoots early and often for the Kings, he's tied for fourth in the league with 3.9 per game, but he passed the puck too much for Babcock's taste during a short skate.
"If he's giving it back to Sid, he can't play with him," Babcock said.
Crosby scored the gold-medal-winning goal in overtime against the United States four years ago.
Carter, who was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, flew to the Vancouver Games as a standby player in case Ryan Getzlaf wasn't healthy enough to participate.
Getzlaf did recover well enough from an ankle injury to be on the final roster, turning Carter into a temporary tourist. He stuck around for a few days, staying in the team hotel, and checked out the sights and sounds at the last Olympics.
Now, Carter is in Russia and might get an incredible chance to play with one of the best players in the world known as Sid the Kid.
"You always have to be ready with him," Carter said. "He won't even be looking at you and the puck's coming to you.
"I think for whoever plays with him, you've just got to kind of listen to him. He'll tell you where to go to be in the right spots. He's going to find you and when you get the chance you've got to get it to the net."
Canada's hopes of becoming the first to win two straight golds and three overall since NHL players joined the Olympics in 1998 may hinge on how well it fares in front of the net.
Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo helped Canada win gold in his home rink, but Montreal Canadiens standout Carey Price is statistically having a better season.
"I'm hoping to get a start at some point," Price acknowledged.
Babcock declined to say who will be between the pipes for Canada during the preliminary rounds.
The Canadians appear to have an easy path to the quarterfinals.
They open with Norway, which has only one NHL player on its roster, on Thursday and then play Austria, which has just three players from the league, the next day. Following a one-day break, they'll play a Finland team that is missing two of its best players — Valtteri Filppula and Mikko Koivu — because of injuries.
In the elimination round, though, there probably will not be any pushovers because perhaps more than half of the 12 teams in the tournament have a shot to end up winning gold.
Canada and the host Russians are regarded as the favorites.
The Canadians may have a better combination of forwards and defensemen, but they won't have home-ice advantage with roaring fans rooting them on as they did four years ago.
"The opportunity to play in the Olympics, to be an Olympian, in your home country is a dream come true," Babcock said. "I'm sure the Russians are optimistic they can do the same thing (we did). It's very hard. There's a ton of pressure."
Fans back in the hockey-crazed country, though, will be staying up late or waking up early to watch games on TV that they'll expect Crosby and Co. to win.
"Hopefully we do bring home a gold medal," general manager Steve Yzerman said.
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