Saturday, May 15, 2004

Naming the Names

Team Canada unveils its World Cup of Hockey roster on Saturday morning with an 9 am (MST), 11 am (EST), 8 am (PST) press conference from the Pengrowth Saddledome. Wayne Gretzky will pull his names out of the hat and 26 Canadian hockey players will be sent to defend Canada’s honour.

Gretzky and his team face a dilemma that many GM’s can only wish they had, a plethora of talent and only 26 spots to fit it all in. Do they go with youth on the rise, or stick with the old wily vets that rise to the challenge every couple of years. How many of the recent Team Canada vagabonds deserve a chance to once again don the maple leaf sweater to go into battle. Dany Heatley would appear to be a lock from that group, as well as Ryan Smyth and Roberto Luongo.

Do they bring back Steve Yzerman, Paul Kariya and Joe Nieuwendyk who last wore the Leaf while at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Observers feel that Gretzky and Co. could end up turning over from one third to one half of that Gold Medal Roster, as the new class of NHL stars like Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester all have shown that they are the next wave of Canadian stars ready to serve.

The big question is what to do about Bert. Todd Bertuzzi would have been an instant lock for this team prior to March, but after his on ice incident with Steve Moore the question looms large, should he be named? And if he is named, will Gary Bettman allow him to play. His suspension is an apparent grey area regarding this upcoming tournament. Since the team is a joint venture of the NHLPA and the NHL, Bettman has a say in who can play. If Bertuzzi finds himself on the shelf for the start of the upcoming season then his participation in the World Cup of Hockey will be moot, no suspended player can take part.

The tournament that runs through late August into September may very well be the last high calibre hockey that we see for a long time. It takes place just before the NHL season would normally get under way, but with the storm clouds gathering between the League and the NHLPA there’s no guarantee that there will be a season. The World Cup of Hockey may be the last of the game for a while.

The tournament which gets underway August 30th will wrap up on the 14th of September. Games are to be played both in Europe and in North America, the championship games on Canadian soil at the Air Canada Centre.

Canada is in the North American pool with the USA, Russia and Slovakia. The European pool consists of Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic and Germany. There is a lot riding on this tournament for Canadian hockey which has enjoyed a renaissance of late in the hockey world. Once again the Maple Leaf is the symbol of excellence, two concurrent World Championship wins, an Olympic Gold Medal and a myriad of European tournament wins have all contributed to a new respect for our game, played our way.
Gretzky and crew will have that and a lot more riding on their decisions Saturday, each name to be analyzed for strength and weakness. Regardless of whom he names, the Canadian public will debate the roster right up until the drop of the first puck, each armchair GM ready to provide his list of 26 that would be the perfect mix.

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