The results of minor throat surgery will determine whether Rick Nash will be part of the team that defends Canada’s gold medal at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
The Columbus Blue Jackets star was named MVP at last year’s tournament in Moscow and would like to be part of the Canadian team at next month’s event in Halifax and Quebec City.
Nash is scheduled to have a piece of his tonsils removed after the regular season and hopes that he recovers quickly enough to compete at the world championship.
“If all goes well and I’m healed and ready to go and (GM) Steve (Yzerman) asks me to play, I’ll play,” he told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.
The last part is of no concern – he has a standing invitation.
Nash had his tonsils removed four years ago but doctors missed a piece, which has consistently become infected to the point where he can “barely swallow.”
He’ll have the surgery on April 14 and expects the recovery period to last about 10 days. The end of that layoff coincides with the opening of Canada’s training camp in Quebec City on April 24.
The team plays its first game of the tournament on May 2 in Halifax.
Hockey Canada is monitoring the situation closely and will give Nash any extra time he might need to recover. Nash led Canada with six goals and 11 points in nine games at last year’s world championship.
“He was such an exceptional player in Moscow,” said Doug Armstrong, Canada’s assistant GM. “Some players can rise up to the occasion and some can’t and he showed himself and the hockey world that his future is very bright.
“The bigger the stage the better he plays.”
Nash already has a tie to this year’s team. Ken Hitchcock, his Blue Jackets coach, will be behind the Canadian bench.
He thinks Hitchcock has a lot in common with Andy Murray, who led last year’s team to a 9-0 record.
“He reminds me a lot of Andy Murray in the way he gets guys prepared for games,” said Nash. “Those two are the best I’ve seen at doing that.”
Meantime, one of Nash’s star teammates from last year will be given a chance to return. Shane Doan was the Canadian captain in Russia and won his third world championship gold there.
His Phoenix Coyotes were still in the NHL playoff race until a few days ago so he hasn’t yet thought too much about whether he’ll play in Halifax and Quebec City this spring.
“Team’s Canada’s pretty special,” said Doan. “I think that players from other countries would like to play for Canada.
“My wife and I will definitely talk about it in the next day or two.”
Yzerman reiterated his support of Doan earlier this week and indicated that he would call him to discuss joining the team.
One thing that won’t factor into Doan’s decision to play is the controversy he was drawn into a year ago when a couple politicians back home said he shouldn’t have been named captain after being linked to an unsubstantiated comment against Francophones.
“I hope that for the most part it was a very, very small group of people that were adamant against me,” said Doan. “The rest of Canada was very supportive – that was kind of the feeling that I got. …
“I’d hope that I’d have support. It wouldn’t affect my decision to go or not go. That would have nothing to do with it at all.”
No matter what happens this spring, Nash and Doan will always be able to hold onto their experience from a year ago.
They were two of the biggest names on a team that flew below the radar and continually improved as the tournament progressed.
“We just had a really good group of players,” said Doan. “People might not have known everyone’s name but there were lots of players who played great for us over there and we counted on a lot.”
Nash says he was particularly impressed by the leadership Doan showed by quietly dealing with the controversy over his captaincy. The team had one small meeting to talk about the issue and never discussed it in the dressing room again.
He also credits Yzerman for building that championship team.
“I think Steve obviously did a great job of bringing in a good mix of different type players,” said Nash. “I think that was the biggest key to all the success.”