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Blackhawks Score A Canadian Hat Trick

12/31/2009 10:28 AM

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The Blackhawks were one of three teams to place as many as three players on Canada's highly anticipated Olympic entry that was revealed on Wednesday by Executive Director Steve Yzerman.

Chicago's dynamite defensive pairing of
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook represent nearly a third of the defensemen that will surely be under fire from facing other talent-laden lineups. Keith's and Seabrook's familiarity with each other is the root of speculation on why they were selected and are expected to play together in Vancouver, and all indications are they're fine with that.

"I think this is our third season being paired up together, and I think the way Brent plays kind of helps my game," Keith said. "I think right from the get-go it was kind of a pretty good pairing, being able to play with him and read off him. He's a big strong guy, smart and always in good position. I think that really helps my game. ... I always like playing with someone who shows you support and gives you an out and helps you play your game well. From the start it's been like that, and sometimes you have to work at it, but I think it's been pretty good right from the start. We've worked through our bumps and ups and downs and I think that's what's made us a good pair."

"We're (Keith) playing against these top lines night in and night out and I think that definitely helped us out," Seabrook added. "I think it's good, and I think it's going to help us out in the tournament as well."

Duncan Keith
The Blackhawks are second in the League in fewest goals against with 81 (one behind New Jersey), and though goaltenders Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi are a big reason why, Keith and Seabrook deserve a large measure of the credit. Keith is currently leading all NHL defensemen in average time on ice per game with 26:49, 3:17 of which is spent killing penalties (2:38 comes on the power-play). Seabrook averages 23:44 per game and 3:12 when a man down.

Seabrook sports a plus-13 and Keith is a plus-10.

Chicago is tied with San Jose for the NHL's second-best penalty kill at 86.5 percent efficiency, trailing only Boston (87.5).

On a conference call, Yzerman addressed the rationale behind selecting a pair of defensemen that play together in the NHL for a two-week Olympic tournament. "Well, we spent a lot of time discussing it, and finally when it came down to making our decision yesterday, we brought up that specific [thing]," he said. "First of all, do we like the pair? And yes, we all liked the pair, so that meant, can both of these players stand on their own? Do they deserve to be on the team? And we all felt pretty strongly that they've both played very well and they belonged on this team and they could play a role on this team.

"The familiarity of knowing we have a good pair ... the Chicago Blackhawks I think have the stingiest defense in the League right now; these are the two players that play against the other team's top players every game, game in, game out, and they're not allowing many goals a game. When we really thought about it, it was like, this is kind of an easy decision for us in that we've got a good pair; we know they work together, there's chemistry, they're familiar with one another. Let's just go with them. Let's not get cute, let's not over-think this and we'll work around that. We're very comfortable with that decision, but again, that's something we talked at length about -- is this the right thing to do? And we all felt pretty strongly at the end of the day that it was the right thing to do."

There really isn't a forward line combination Keith and Seabrook haven't seen, but they were asked about the possibility of having to go up against Russia's Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk even though the nations do not meet in the preliminary round. Canada has guaranteed dates against Norway, Switzerland and the United States.

Brent Seabrook
"It's an honor to be named to the team and I don't think we've looked that far into it yet," Keith said in regard to potential matchups. "We play together on the Blackhawks and I guess that gives (Canada's coaches) an option on who they want out there. To play against some of the best players in the world is a tough challenge.

"They're all great players and they have so much talent and they're unpredictable as to what they're going to do. I don't know if it's exciting or more stressful. You have to be at your best and that's the fun part about it is playing against the best players and challenging yourself."

One person who has all the confidence in the world in Keith and Seabrook is Blackhawks captain
Jonathan Toews, also named to Canada's squad. He's one of eight NHL captains who will suit up for Canada in Vancouver.

"All season they've done a great job," Toews said. "I don't know if we're first or second in the League on the penalty kill, but it all starts with those two guys right there and the confidence they give us, especially when we're protecting a one- or two-goal lead. We feel confident that they'll play smart defensive hockey. They've done a great job on both sides of the puck."

As for himself, Toews said he wasn't as certain.

"I wasn't sure," he said. "I don't think the three of us were a 100 percent sure until we heard our names this morning or we got the phone call. You know, we heard a lot of talk and people gossip and gave their own opinion about who they think is going to be on the team, but until you hear your name mentioned ... I was definitely pretty nervous this morning and I definitely think it's a huge accomplishment for the three of us to have the opportunity to play for this team.

"We're definitely pretty excited about it," Toews said. "It was a special moment to share with my parents this morning. Again, it's kind of funny. My mom is the one that got the phone call, because she had my phone in the kitchen, and she came running into my bedroom jumping up and down and I knew what was going on. It was kind of funny."