Those of you who a year ago would have predicted that none of Vincent Lecavalier, Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr and Mike Green would be named to Canada’s Olympic team, don’t bother reading on because your soothsaying powers are so strong you probably can predict every remaining word in this column.
The names that were left off Canada’s roster could make up a formidable and competitive team in these Olympics, and that’s as it should be when you live in a country where so much money is dedicated to hockey and where it is such an important part of the cultural fabric. No surprise there. It should also come as no surprise that the choices will be rehashed and debated on every bar stool north of the 49th parallel between now and when the puck drops in February.
But what Steve Yzerman and his team did under intense scrutiny and pressure was, for the first time since NHLers started competing in the Olympics, was produce a roster of 23 players that not a single one of which will be asked, “What in god’s name is that guy doing on the team?”
In 1998, that player was Rob Zamuner. In 2002, to a lesser extent, there were a number of people scratching their heads over the inclusion of Owen Nolan and Theo Fleury. In 2006, choosing Todd Bertuzzi was a move that looked really bad when it was made and even worse after the Olympics.
If Canada doesn’t win the gold medal, there will undoubtedly be some second-guessing that takes place, but no matter how this team does, it is one that was selected on merit.
For example, Yzerman could have chosen Dan Cleary as his 13th forward because he plays for the Red Wings, but he did not. It would have been justifiable for him to pick Bouwmeester or Green on defense or Lecavalier up front based on past contributions and reputations, but the fact was that neither Bouwmeester nor Lecavalier has played well enough this season to warrant being selected. In the case of Green, he gives Canada too much of what they already have in abundance and not enough of what they need from their defensemen.
And it’s quite obvious that Yzerman, having experienced playing in this condensed tournament three times during his career, has placed a premium on players who have performed well in tandem this season.
On his own merits, Brent Seabrook is probably a debatable choice, but teamed with Duncan Keith, the two form a comfortable pairing that can play in almost any situation. Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton helped play each other onto the team by the season they’re having in San Jose and anytime you can put the world’s best playmaker with one of the world’s most dangerous players around the net, that’s a tandem you take.
If there are any aspects of the Canadian lineup that might be concerning, they would probably be goaltending (not kidding) and lack of experience up front, but both of those are easily overcome with the rest of the roster.
Let’s start with goaltending. Martin Brodeur and Marc-Andre Fleury have Stanley Cups and impeccable credentials, but Roberto Luongo has never been beyond the second round of the playoffs. And as incredible as it might sound, none of the three is among the top 10 in save percentage in the NHL this season. But unlike past international tournaments when Canada had to rely on superhuman goaltending, the goaltending on this team does not have to deliver a championship. It only has to be good enough not to lose one.
Up front, the roster is young and relatively inexperienced at high-level international competition. Only Jarome Iginla, Rick Nash and Joe Thornton have previous Olympic experience, but considering how Canada did in 2006 in Turin, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Canadian forwards are fast, talented and physical and if the team is looking for experience and leadership, it will find it in abundance in goal and on defense.
Yzerman and the rest of Canada’s brain trust did not guarantee Canada a gold medal in February, but there are few who could argue that it didn’t give its country the best chance to do just that.
And if there’s anyone out there who can figure out exactly what the Czechs were thinking when they put their roster together, we’d love to hear from you.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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