Volume 94, Issue 42
Tuesday, November 14, 2000
Carrying Canada's hockey hopes
During his hall of fame career in the National Hockey League, Wayne Gretzky displayed the best vision of any player to ever play the game. Now, behind a desk instead of a net, Gretzky must summon that vision once again.
Gretzky has recently been put in charge of assembling the Canadian Olympic team for the 2002 Olympic games in Salt Lake City, Utah. The timing of these Olympics is going to represent a changing in the guard of Canadian hockey, the old and trusty have become old and rusty.
For the past 20 years Canadian hockey teams have been built around names like Messier, Coffey, Bourque and of course the Great One himself. The supporting cast has been interchangeable, but for a long time the results were the same. We were the best. However, the times they are a changing.
Canada has not emerged as the top hockey nation in each of the past two international events that featured all the top players in the world. The United States beat Canada to win the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and the Czech Republic shocked the world by winning gold at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. In case you have forgotten, Canada came home empty handed in that event.
The time has come for some new blood and it will be up to Gretzky to ensure that it gets infused. Gretzky can not let his understandable loyalty to his old mates cloud his judgment. It's time to turn over a new maple leaf.
I have already witnessed the inevitable question, "Will there be any room for Mark Messier's leadership on this team?" This sounds painfully familiar to the debate that circled Messier in "98. He was left off the team then and despite what some diehard 'moose' supporters would have you believe, that is not why Canada lost. Let's nip this one in the bud and accept the fact that it is time to move on.
The recipe for Canada to succeed is the same as it has always been, a combination of grit and talent backed up by pressure goaltending, we just need some new ingredients. If you want a fearless leader, who will not wilt under the pressure, how about a warrior like San Jose centre Mike Ricci. Need a rock solid defenceman that clears the net and always hits his man with the pass? Say hello to Ottawa defenceman Wade Redden.
Canada has come under attack recently for not producing talented offensive players. Cue Jason Allison, Vincent Lecavalier (give him a year and a half) and Owen Nolan. If it's goals you want, maybe we should give some of these chaps a call.
Sticking with old veterans in favour of some new bucks is not anything new to Canadian hockey. Just think about how many times Steve Yzerman was passed over before he finally got a chance to prove himself.
I am by no means suggesting Canada cut all ties to the past. Experience is a valuable commodity at these intense events. Guys like Joe Sakic, Mark Recchi and Rob Blake need to emerge from their supporting status and thrive in the limelight.
No matter what the make up of the 2002 Olympic squad is, there will be serious questions about the selections. Maybe it's a good thing, after all Gretzky's best results seemed to come on the heels of doubt.
Copyright © The Gazette 2000