Keeping it together

Seven-year-old Matthew Young of Whitby talks to goaltender Roberto Luongo yesterday as members of...

Seven-year-old Matthew Young of Whitby talks to goaltender Roberto Luongo yesterday as members of Team Canada arrive in Toronto for the team's first practice today. Canada will face host Italy in its Olympic opener on Wednesday. (Toronto Sun/Fred Thornhill)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

If it isn't broken, don't fix it.

That's the conclusion the Team Canada coaching staff came to yesterday after haggling over potential line combinations for the Olympic men's hockey tournament in Turin.

With very little practice time available before the Canadians take to the ice for their opener on Wednesday against the host Italians, Pat Quinn and assistant coaches Ken Hitchcock, Jacques Martin and Wayne Fleming felt familiarity among linemates would be key.

As a result, Simon Gagne, Joe Thornton and Rick Nash are scheduled to be reunited when Team Canada holds its first official practice at a Toronto-area rink this afternoon.

And, barring a last-minute change of heart from the Canadian braintrust, that's the way they'll line up against Italy less than 48 hours later.

"They were considered to be the best line at the 2005 world championship, so we thought it was best that we left them intact,"Quinn said last night.

Gagne, Thornton and Nash clicked right from the get-go at the '05 worlds, the most-recent tournament in which many of this country's top professional hockey players represented Canada.

Thornton led the way with 16 points, followed by Nash's 15 and Gagne's 10. The trio finished one-two-three in tournament scoring.

Gagne flourished on a line with Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla during Canada's gold- medal run at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The Sakic-Iginla partnership is back this time around, with Gagne's spot on the left side filled by speedy Detroit Red Wing Kris Draper.

Another potentially explosive line features Ottawa Senators star Dany Heatley flanked by Tampa Bay's dynamic duo of Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Lecavalier was the most valuable player at the 2004 World Cup while St. Louis is the defending Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP.

As for controversial Vancouver Canucks winger Todd Bertuzzi, the coaches tentatively have placed him on a unit with Tampa Bay's Brad Richards and Ryan Smyth of the Edmonton Oilers.

"We're still experimenting, but I was intrigued by the possibility of Richards and Bertuzzi playing together," Quinn said. "Richards is a real thinking player out there and Bertuzzi's a horse."

The process of putting lines together started with the coaches writing four sets of names on a blackboard: Nash-Thornton; Iginla-Sakic; Lecavalier-St. Louis; and Richards-Bertuzzi. Then came the job of finding a third player to line up with each of those pairings.

"There is no question experience played a role here, especially in the first (three)," Quinn said. "Combinations that have succeeded in the past are important.

"Having said that, flexibility was a vital component to our success in Salt Lake and it will be the same here. We won't hesitate to switch things around."

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THE DEAL WITH ... CANADA'S LINES

A look at the forward lines Team Canada men's hockey coach Pat Quinn and his staff put together for the opening game against Italy on Wednesday.

DRAPER-SAKIC-IGINLA

GAGNE-THORNTON-NASH

HEATLEY-LECAVALIER-ST. LOUIS

SMYTH-RICHARDS-BERTUZZI

*STAAL-*SPEZZA-DOAN

*taxi squad


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