DENVER -- Eric Staal and Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes are accustomed to playing and performing before packed arenas and thousands of people.
But Staal and Ward also must be aware that there are a few more eyes watching their every move this season -- those on the selection committee that will choose Canada's Olympic team for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.
"I don't really feel those eyes," Ward said. "Obviously, my focus is on the Hurricanes and trying to do what I can to contribute to the team.
"But there's no question in the back of my mind I have that goal in mind of making Team Canada for the Olympics. I realize a lot of decisions will be based on performance up until the end of the December, so not only is it important to bear down for the Hurricanes' sake, but it's important to bear down for the opportunity of hopefully representing your country."
Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said he didn't sense the desire to make Team Canada had negatively affected either player.
"Both of them, because of their stature in the league, have grown up with that kind of pressure," he said. "From the time they were 17 on, both of them had to be the best player on their team and then high draft picks and that pressure -- always feeling the pressure to be the guy to drive the team."
Staal and Ward attended Team Canada's orientation camp in late August. It will be a team, coached by Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings, that will be loaded at forward -- Sidney Crosby, Dany Heatley, Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash and others are available -- regardless of the players chosen in late December by Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman and his group.
"There's a ton of guys," said Staal, a reserve on the 2006 Olympic team. "We could probably go with two teams that could be competitive.
"It's definitely a challenge, but my name is in that mix with those guys, so that's a good thing. Now I've got to prove myself again and do the best I can to make sure that I earn a spot on that team."