By Robin Short
Vancouver – Before Canada dashes to the ice for the start of the big Olympic men’s hockey game with the United States tonight, don’t expect captain Scott Niedermayer to deliver a stirring address that would leave Knute Rockne smiling.
For starters, that’s not the soft-spoken Niedermayer’s style. And besides, what can you say to a gathering that already has seven other NHL captains in the dressing room?
Niedermayer is the Maytag repairman of Olympic hockey captains. Outside the normal duties of a captain, Niedermayer likely doesn’t have a whole lot else to do on a team that already has Jarome Iginla, Eric Staal, Jonathan Toews, Rick Nash, Brenden Morrow, Mike Richards and Sidney Crosby, all NHL captains.
Heck, even one of Canada’s goalies, Roberto Luongo, dons the ‘C’ of the Vancouver Canucks.
“You’re not going to do something different, or create something new, that has never been done before, just because you’re captain,” said Niedermayer. “With those guys around, what is there to do? There really is nothing you do differently, nothing than any of those other guys do on their teams. We’re all here competing, trying to be a good example for your teammate, trying to be supportive of your teammate, important things that you do that any leader on any team would do.”
For Canada, the real Olympic test begins Sunday night against the United States as both teams gear up for the playoffs beginning Tuesday.
Ryan Miller and the Americans are 2-0 after beating Norway 6-1 and Switzerland 3-1. Canada trimmed the Norwegians 8-0, but needed a sudden death shootout goal by Crosby to beat the Swiss 3-2 and settle for a single point.
Niedermayer, the slick-skating defenseman who was part of Canada’s gold-medal team at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games (he missed the 2006 Olympics with an injury), admitted the 2010 Vancouver tournament has quickly reached a critical point in terms of Canada coming together as a unit.
“The game against the Swiss, as we all know, is not the way we need to play,” he acknowledged. “Not taking anything away with how they played — obviously (goaltender Jonas) Hiller played real well — but how you respond and how you come to practice and more importantly how you’re going to play (Sunday) is pretty important.
“It’s critical that we play a sound game, and realize the way we have to — must, really — play.”
Of course, Niedermayer also knows the world is not coming to an end because a shootout was needed against the Swiss.
In 2002, Canada had a win, loss and tie in the preliminary round (the Canadians lost their opening game 5-2 to Sweden), but rallied to win gold with a 5-2 decision over the States in the final game.
If nothing else, Thursday’s game against Switzerland was a wake-up call that nothing will be easy, even when you are playing at home.
“We talked about it in the summer and talked about it here,” said the four-time Stanley Cup winner. “There are going to be moments that really test you.
“Accomplishing something this worthwhile is never easy, never given to you. There are other teams that are hungry as well and you’re going to get tested. How you respond is the most important thing.”
At 36, Niedermayer is the elder statesman among Canadian skaters (goalie Martin Brodeur is the geezer at 37). Of course, this is the last Olympic Games for both of them and Niedermayer, the product of Cranbrook, B.C., wonders if the stars are aligned to win a second gold medal in his home province.
“Yes,” he said, “this is special and that would be special. But we’re here to focus and to do a job. It’s not all fun and games. At the same time, you do take a few minutes here and there to soak up and enjoy the atmosphere because it doesn’t come around all the time.”
One can only imagine what the atmosphere will be like in downtown Vancouver — and across the country — if Niedermayer and Co., get the job done.