SASKATOON – The naming of Scott Niedermayer as captain of Canada’s Olympic men’s hockey team wasn’t a surprise Wednesday, but the manner in which it was done was.
Instead of making a separate announcement about captaincy at a later date, executive director Steve Yzerman combined the naming of his captains and alternate captains with the announcement of his 23-man Olympic roster.
So immediately after Niedermayer’s name was called, the Anaheim Duck defenceman and native of Cranbrook, B.C., was also proclaimed Canada’s captain for 2010.
Philadelphia defenceman Chris Pronger, Calgary winger Jarome Iginla and Pittsburgh centre Sidney Crosby were named his alternate captains.
Niedermayer, 36, has long been pegged the leading candidate to wear the ‘C’ when Canada opens the Olympic tournament Feb. 16 against Norway in Vancouver.
Since NHL players began competing in the Olympics in 1998, Eric Lindros (’98), Mario Lemieux (2002) and Joe Sakic (2006) have been Canada’s Olympic captains.
“It’s just an honour to be on the team, then to be named captain of the club is an honour as well,” Niedermayer said.
“I’m just going to do the best I can, not really change anything or do anything drastically different. I guess in some ways, I won’t make a huge deal about it. You just go about your business and try to be prepared and be at your best when you need to be.”
Niedermayer has won almost everything there is to win in hockey: Stanley Cups (New Jersey Devils, 1995, 2000, 2003; Anaheim, 2007), Olympic gold medal (2002), World Cup (2004), world championship (2004), world junior championship (1991) and Memorial Cup (1992).
The 2010 Olympics will be his seventh international tournament for Canada. He was unable to play in the 2006 Games because of injury.
“Scott is our most decorated player,” Yzerman said. “He’s played in these events. He’s well respected and a calming influence.”
Niedermayer is thoughtful, measured and considered one of the best puck-carrying defencemen in the game.
“Not a big talker,” said Canadian head coach Mike Babcock. “He does things right. Tons of experience. Lots of winning and we think the kind of leadership we need with Pronger, Iggy and Crosby to get us over the top.”
Niedermayer, who is in his 18th NHL season, contemplated retirement after his fourth Stanley Cup, but returned to the Ducks after 34 games of the 2007-08 season. He’s one of three Anaheim players on the Olympic roster along with forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who are both 24 and will make their Olympic debuts.
Niedermayer, Iginla and Pronger are the only skaters on the team from the 2002 Olympic team that won gold, along with goaltender Martin Brodeur. Had Yzerman, Babcock and company gone outside those three for their captain, Canada may have had a young leader.
Fourteen players named to the Olympic team wear a letter with their respective NHL clubs. Crosby (Pittsburgh), Mike Richards (Philadelphia), Jonathan Toews (Chicago) and Rick Nash (Columbus) are captains of their clubs and all under the age of 25.
Getzlaf, Shea Weber (Nashville) and Patrice Bergeron (Boston) are 24-year-olds wearing ‘A’s. Blackhawks assistant Duncan Keith is 26 and Hurricanes counterpart Eric Staal is 25.
Niedermayer, six foot one and 200 pounds, is the second-oldest player on the team behind Brodeur. He’s played 43 international games for Canada with a career six goals and seven assists.
He’s one of four B.C. defencemen on the Olympic roster along with Keith, Weber and Brent Seabrook. His leadership will be under intense scrutiny in Vancouver.
“To compete for your home country, that close to home, will be a very unique, obviously once-in-a-lifetime type of experience,” Niedermayer said.