Monday, February 20, 2006

2006 Turin Winter Olympics
Men's hockey: Canada looks to regroup

The CBC just broadcast Wayne Gretzky's meeting with the Canadian media in Turin today, and there were some interesting points made by The Great One. CP hasn't moved a story with quotes yet, but when they do, I'll provide them here.

Among other things, Gretzky is calling on the so-called 'young' players to step up and take some pressure off of the guys who have been there before (he names Joe Sakic, Jarome Iginla, Rob Blake — among others).

He's got a point, although I'm not entirely sure anyone has come through particularly well — Olympic veterans or not. Still, some of those who shone for Canada at the 2004 World Cup or recent world championships have been downright invisible thus far. (I'm looking at you, Tampa Bay threesome.)

The problem, as I see it, with the players sent to Turin is that the Team Canada brass failed to send more of the players who were playing well right now — and not two years ago during the World Cup. This team is basically a group of Canadian all-stars from before the lockout and hasn't really taken into account anything that's happened this season (aside from putting Bryan McCabe on as the seventh defenceman and Marty Turco as the third goaltender).

There are a ton of Canadians at the top of the scoring race who aren't playing — Eric Staal comes to mind first, but guys like Marc Savard, Alex Tanguay, Patrick Marleau, Jon Cheechoo and Jason Arnott weren't even looked at despite the fact they're all having terrific seasons. All of those snipers have more points than Todd Bertuzzi, Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Smyth, Iginla, Martin St. Louis, Shane Doan and, yes, Kris Draper.
As centre Vincent Lecavalier noted, this is essentially the same roster from the World Cup of Hockey in September 2004. “And we won that tournament,” said the Tampa Bay Lightning forward.
Problem being, it's not 2004 anymore.

Now I'm not saying it's as easy as swapping out these guys for a few of the hot hands. But it does seem rather bizarre that, even as defensemen continued to go down to injury, Dion Phanuef doesn't get a call.

Right now, the European teams simply look hungrier than Canada, and one can't help but think that having a few young guys who haven't been there before could help motivate this team.

Of course, it's a heck of a lot easier to say now what the problems are with the team's roster (and there's going to be an awful lot of griping about the selections if Canada doesn't win gold) than it was two months ago. Even with the team Canada has sent, they should be one of the better teams. But, as the American women's team found out against Sweden, when it comes down to one game takes all (as it will on Wednesday in the quarter-finals), any team can win.

And never has that seemed truer than this year's Olympic tournament.

Here's Gretzky:

“This is the first time I ever remember at a championship of this magnitude that there wasn’t one easy quarter-final game. They’re all going to be good games. I just hope that we’re still standing at the end of it.”

Not exactly words that'll inspire confidence for Canadian fans.


UPDATE For more from Gretzky, read below.
UPDATE2 Cosh already talked about this business earlier today.

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