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March 18, 2016

Sunday, December 16, 2001

Gretzky chooses Great Ones


 The guessing has ended for Team Canada, so the second-guessing can begin.

  As Wayne Gretzky stepped to a microphone at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto yesterday, there were no major surprises among the 23 players he named to go to Salt Lake City in February, but it's clear this version of Team Canada is built around speed and skill.

  Though the presence of Vancouver's Ed Jovanovski on the blue line and Dallas' Ed Belfour in net caused a minor stir, Gretzky made it clear that the selections only showed the amount of depth Canada has to choose from.

 "We had a lot of difficult decisions to make," said Gretzky, Team Canada's executive director. "There was a lot of effort made in 1998 and we didn't get the desired results that we deserved. But we learned a lot.

 "When we started this process we wanted to build a team that was going to be successful. One thing we tried to do with this team was have one that was going to be able to be creative offensively. We know that there's going to be a lot of pressure on this team and we accept that."

  The team will be built around Pittsburgh centre Mario Lemieux as long as he's healthy. With Joe Sakic, Paul Kariya, Steve Yzerman and Owen Nolan already named to the team, Gretzky had to fill eight forward positions.


 Passing up on the likes of Jeff O'Neill and Joe Thornton, Canada opted for Jarome Iginla, Theoren Fleury, Michael Peca, Simon Gagne, Brendan Shanahan, Ryan Smyth, Joe Nieuwendyk and Eric Lindros.

 "When I got the call from Wayne Gretzky it was like Christmas morning. I was pretty happy," said Iginla, who had 24 goals and 18 assists for 42 points going into last night's Flames-Blues game in St. Louis.

 "I'm excited. You don't expect this coming into the season. I've been nervous. I woke up early (yesterday) morning because I knew this was the day Team Canada was going to be named. I couldn't wait. It's going to be great to play for my country."

  On the blue line, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Rob Blake had already been named, Eric Brewer, Jovanovski, Al MacInnis and Adam Foote were added. The only surprise in that group was Vancouver's Jovanovski.

  Ottawa defenceman Wade Redden had the backing of Senators coach Jacques Martin, but it obviously wasn't enough. Redden and Calgary's Derek Morris were considered to be two of the favourites.

 "There were a lot of tough decisions that had to be made on the blue line," said Martin, an associate coach on the staff. "Guys like Eric Brewer, Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris and Wade Redden have all had good seasons. They've played well and all probably deserve to be on this team.


 "But we had a lot of people to choose from. I can tell you that there wasn't much separating one player from another in this group once we got down to our final list. The last three or four choices were very difficult to make. That just shows the amount of depth we had."

 There was a minor surprise in net where Belfour was named ahead of Phoenix goalie Sean Burke. After losing Patrick Roy, the staff opted for experience in net by taking Curtis Joseph, Martin Brodeur and Belfour.

  The goaltending position won't be decided until the team gets to Salt Lake. Gretzky said it was tough to leave Burke off the team, but the reality is Belfour has won a Stanley Cup and it was a factor.

 "That was probably the most difficult decision for all of us," said Gretzky. "I've watched Sean Burke firsthand in Phoenix and I know what he can do. But Ed Belfour has beaten guys like Roy, Brodeur and Joseph during his career. Experience was a big factor in all these decisions."

  With only 55 days until the start of the Games, the work now falls into the hands of coach Pat Quinn and his assistants, Wayne Fleming, Ken Hitchcock and Martin.

 "This is like building a Stanley Cup contender," said Quinn. "We've got a group here that we feel very comfortable with and we're excited about getting to Salt Lake City to play our first game. It's going to be hard to wait.

 "We know the pressure is going to be on us to bring back a gold medal for Canada. But we feel strongly that we've got a good group here and there's an awful lot of talent in this country. Now, we have to get prepared."

  The Great Debate will rage for awhile.

2002 Games Men's Hockey Coverage

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