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Blackhawks’ Brent Seabrook has Sochi on his mind

Brent Seabrook leads all NHL defensemen with plus-22 rating. Seabrook played Canadian team thwOlympic gold 2010 Vancouver. | Charles Rex

Brent Seabrook leads all NHL defensemen with a plus-22 rating. Seabrook played on the Canadian team that won Olympic gold in 2010 in Vancouver. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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Updated: February 6, 2014 6:48AM



Michael Grabner — one of the fastest skaters in the NHL — was streaking down the left wing, and the only Blackhawks player anywhere near him was defenseman Brent Seabrook, who is, well, not one of the fastest skaters in the NHL. But with a few long strides and a little extra effort, Seabrook somehow caught up to the speedy New York Islanders winger and separated him from the puck before he could get a shot off against Corey Crawford.

It was an eye-catching moment for a guy known more for his bruising hits and big shots than his blinding speed.

“That was something a little special. That was for the Team Canada guys,” Seabrook joked.

Seabrook, like so many of his countrymen, is eagerly waiting for Tuesday’s announcement of the Canadian Olympic roster, one of the most hotly debated hockey topics in recent memory. And Seabrook — who was the seventh defenseman for Canada during its run to the 2010 gold medal in Vancouver — is firmly on the bubble.

His stellar play so far — admittedly motivated in part by his desire to return to the Olympics — certainly has put him in the conversation. He has four goals in the last four weeks, is on pace for career highs in assists and points and leads all NHL defensemen with a gaudy plus-22 rating.

The Islanders game showed off many of his strengths. He scored a power-play goal on a one-timer below the dots, finding a soft spot in the penalty kill and reading Kris Versteeg’s passing intentions perfectly before unleashing a cannon of a shot. And defensively, his backchecking of Grabner helped keep the game within reach for the Hawks to rally and salvage a point. He also has been his usual physical self, with 106 hits and 73 blocked shots through 44 games.

Seabrook believes he’s playing some of the best hockey of his career, and coach Joel Quenneville agrees.

“He’s had a much better [season] than we’ve seen over the last year or so,” Quenneville said.

But if there’s a knock on Seabrook’s game, it’s that he doesn’t have the speed to keep up with the world’s best players on the larger Olympic ice surface. Seabrook has heard it all before.

“I feel like I can skate,” he said. “I’ve worked on it. That was a big knock on me coming into the league nine years ago, and I’m still here.”

Handicapping Team Canada has been a national pastime north of the border pretty much since the moment Sidney Crosby and Co. stepped off the podium in Vancouver. The competition is fierce, and as Seabrook pointed out, the powers that be could fill up two rosters and leave out worthy players.

“It’s going to be a tough team to make,” he said. “The guys that are picking the team have a tough job, and I wouldn’t want to be them right now.”

Seabrook has tried to avoid all the forecasts but stumbles onto one on the Internet every now and then. Some say he’s a lock. Some say he has no chance. Most say he’s right on the bubble. Experience plays in his favor — he has won gold for Canada in the under-18 world championships, the world juniors and the Olympics. Not to mention those two Stanley Cups with the Hawks.

That experience will help should he pull on the Canadian sweater in Sochi. But it won’t help at all Tuesday morning as he — and Patrick Sharp and Corey Crawford and dozens of other Canadian stars — wait for one of the biggest calls of their lives.

“I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of great teams and win some Stanley Cups and win some gold medals,” Seabrook said. “And I’m excited for the 7th. I’m going to sit around like everybody else, and hopefully ­another dream comes true.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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