Star power top heavy on Team Canada's Four Nations entry

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It has been a very long time since the best of friends around the NHL gathered for a best-on-best tournament.

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Come February, some will be on the same blueline and others, from their own team, will be across centre hearing different national anthems at the Four Nations Face-Off.

For Team Canada, whose first six players were announced Friday with those of the United States, Sweden and Finland, it will be three Nova Scotians from three different teams all in red and white and who knows, maybe on the same line.

Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon and Brad Marchand, with their hockey bags full of miniature Stanley Cups and individual awards, hope to add to it in this first gathering of  puck powers in nine years.

MacKinnon told reporters last week he and Crosby were already talking about being on a line, adding he’d be honoured to play the wing for the author of the Golden Goal in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics.

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“We were on a golf trip and he brought it up,” Crosby chuckled Friday on a Zoom call. “No whiteboards yet, I don’t know how the lines with shake out (with coach Jon Cooper).It has been a while since we had an opportunity to do that (10 years, going back to the world championships when his Pittsburgh Penguins and the Colorado Avalanche were both out of the playoffs early).

“I’m not getting any younger (turning 37 soon), so you appreciate this opportunity.”

Might Crosby play the seniority card to lobby Cooper for that pairing and get summer hockey pal Marchand on the left side?

“There is some familiarity there, but no lobbying,” he assured. “There are a lot of different combinations. There’s always a bit of a juggling act that goes along with that.”

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Marchand would be the new guy at this high level, having evolved from an often undisciplined sideshow into a trusted leader.

“Experience, grit, he’s a big game player,” Crosby praised. “He can play any role and adapt. He’ll help on and off the ice. He plays a certain way and almost demands guys to follow him.

“We’re all proud guys who spend time back (in the Halifax area) in summer. Representing Canada is pretty special, it doesn’t happen every day.”

After so many false alarms that a new World Cup was in the cards, then the Olympic squabbling in 2018 and ‘22 when the NHL eventually didn’t go, Crosby is thrilled to get another chance on this stage when he’ll be aged 37. He agreed having current world champion Czechia and Russia in the event would be better, but that thorny issue might be settled for the league’s planned return to the 2026 Games in Italy.

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“It’s something you can talk about now with confidence,” Crosby said. “There’s anticipation for guys to prepare for next season, but motivation with this (event) in the back of your mind. You look at all the guys announced today and there is serious skill.”

Lest we forget Connor McDavid was part of the Canadian six with MacKinnon’s teammate, defenceman Cale Makar and forward Brayden Point of the Lightning.

No less than eight sets of teammates were split among the four groups posted Friday, with more than two-thirds of the roster still to be named.

While Crosby can chirp Penguins’ Erik Karlsson of Sweden, if not pass along some pointers to checkers on his team and MacKinnon will let Mikko Rantanen have it when Canada plays Finland, Marchand will be trying to get under the skin of B’s bud Charlie McAvoy in the Canada-U.S. tilt.

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Two Maple Leafs will be split, Auston Matthews for the U.S. and William Nylander on Sweden.
A number of Matthews’ buddies from the highly successful U.S. National Development Program can re-unite; Matthew Tkachuk, Jack Eichel, McAvoy, and Quinn Hughes.

“All five guys I know pretty well,” Matthews said in Vegas after the reveal. “It’s kind of just putting the ego aside and doing what’s best for the team, then coming together as quickly as possible,” He looks forward to being better adjusted for this mid-season event that will replace the stale NHL all-star game than in 2016 for the late summer World Cup

“It’s going to be good, kind of halfway through the year, not necessarily trying to get the cobwebs out like at the start of the season.”

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Nylander’s team also includes newly minted Cup champion Gustav Forsling, fellow forwards Filip Forsberg and Mika Zibanejad and defenceman Victor Hedman.

“I’m excited, you can say it’s like the playoffs, the best teams play the best,” Forsling said That’s what I want to see and that’s what the fans want to see.”

While not getting to play with regulars Aleksander Barkov of Finland or Tkachuk, Forsling is intrigued by his first chance to sit beside Zibanejad, whose team gave the Panthers a good battle in the conference final.

“He’s a fantastic player, highly skilled and he’s done it all for the Rangers. I’m pumped to meet all the guys.”

Rounding out Finland are netminder Juuse Saros of Nashville, two Dallas Stars’ defenders, Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen, and Sebastian Aho of the Hurricanes. Saros was the only goalie named, as the other countries see who emerges in the regular season. From having no one jump out, Canada can now consider Stuart Skinner of the Oilers after he helped get them to the Cup final.

“It’s going to be a very tough tournament,” Forsling said of the games in Montreal and Boston. “It’s hard to (pick) a favourite. But I like our chances. We have a bit of everything.”

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