Emotional replay

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

For Sam Gagner it's been an emotional tug-o-war.

He could have been there.

He could have been part of it.

He could have won his second straight World Junior gold medal for Team Canada.

He could have stood there on the blue-line, singing the national anthem like the 16 players who were teammates he led to victory as MVP of the Canada-Russia series fewer than five months ago.

What made it double difficult was that for the past two games, as Canada was in the medal round, he'd been turned into a spectator on this side of the Atlantic as well.

"It was pretty hard watching both Canada and Edmonton," is how he put it.

First, the Oilers decided not to make the 18-year-old available to play in the junior tournament. Then, as Team Canada got down to the must-win games, Gagner was banished to the press box by the Oilers.

"Part of me wanted to be over there and part of it with those guys, especially with the adversity they were going through," he said.

"But it was never my decision. That fact that it wasn't, that I had nothing to do with the decision one way or the other, made it a lot easier not to be over there with them," said Gagner, who admits to have phoned over and talked to a lot of Team Canada players since Christmas.

And part of him was over there, anyway, according to captain Karl Alzner.

On the TSN telecast, Alzner claimed a message from Gagner, back in Edmonton, helped inspire the troops.

It sounded like Gagner voiced a major motivational speech from back home.

That wasn't it at all. It was nothing, he claimed, which even deserved a mention.

"I was talking to Karl on the Internet. I threw out a line Andrew Cogliano told me that an old coach had once told him: The higher you climb the mountain, the harder the wind blows.

"Those guys had a lot of adversity to overcome this year and I'm sure it makes it that much more satisfying to win," said Gagner, who was back in the lineup for the Oilers last night against the New York Rangers.

Cogliano had no emotional roller coaster to deal with while he watched the Canadian kids win a 14th title.

After winning a gold medal in each of the last two years, Cogliano said he was mostly an alumni member cheering for them to stretch their streak to four consecutive world championships.

That was until overtime came along.

"From the start of overtime I was cheering for Matt Halischuk. I didn't want anybody but him to score the winner."

Cogliano said it was total euphoria when Halischuk, his former Tier II linemate with Toronto's St. Michael's, scored the winning goal to lift Canada to a 3-2 overtime victory.

"He's a good guy. I played on the same line with him for two-thirds of a season. He's a tremendous kid and I think that year he developed some confidence," he said.

"I called him immediately after the game and left a message," said Cogliano, who won gold for both Brent Sutter and Craig Hartsburg, and at home (Vancouver) and away (Sweden).

For both Cogliano and Gagner, being an NHL pro and watching the juniors win gold for Canada was an experience.

"For me, it was fun, real fun," said Cogliano. "Especially with Halischuk scoring the winner. That was pretty cool."

For Gagner the real kick was discovering throughout the emotional experience that, in the end, his feelings would be pretty much the same as anybody else in front of the TV set in this country yesterday.

"Definitely, when you've played with so many of these guys and see them win gold, that's part of it.

"But I discovered I was watching it mostly as another Canadian wanting Canada to win.

"And that was a pretty great experience."


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