Lowe high on Bertuzzi

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Kevin Lowe is well aware of the baggage -- both physical and emotional -- that Todd Bertuzzi would lug to Turin if selected to the Canadian Olympic men's hockey team.

With the announcement of Team Canada's much-debated 23-man roster scheduled for Wednesday, Bert Bashing has become an Olympic sport of its own. Yesterday's Toronto Sun, for example, featured both a sports editorial and a commentary from colleague Steve Simmons listing logical reasons why the Vancouver Canucks' bad boy should not be included in Canada's quest to repeat as gold medallists.

So why give him such serious consideration?

"You look at the way he has been playing the past few weeks and Todd has really upped his game," Lowe, the assistant general manager with Team Canada and GM of the Edmonton Oilers, said in a phone interview from Edmonton yesterday. "Even before that, he wasn't playing all that poorly but he's gotten a lot better.

"This was a guy who before the incident was one of the top three forwards in the game. People seem to forget that."

Indeed, mention Bertuzzi's name these days and the image that immediately comes to mind is his highly-publicized mugging of Steve Moore on March 8, 2004.

But when Bertuzzi is a dominant force, as he was against Lowe's Oilers on Saturday, it sparks memories of the days when Big Bert consistently was one of the best power forwards in hockey.

Michael Peca's overtime goal finally gave the Oilers a 5-4 victory over the hometown Canucks, but don't blame Bertuzzi for the loss. The Vancouver winger scored his 10th and 11th goals of the season and was robbed off a hat trick in the extra session by Oilers goalie Jussi Markkanen.

It was an impressive performance in the opinion of Lowe, who watched the game from the press box at Vancouver's GM Place.

"Todd was probably non-chalant concerning the early season criticism of him," Lowe said. "He didn't appear to let it bother him.

"If Todd is picked, understand that we are selecting big-time talented players capable of elevating their games when need be and who have a very competitive nature."

Lowe understandably would not tip his hand when asked if Bertuzzi should be considered a favourite to land a spot on the team. Yet most observers figure it is all but a done deal.

We'll leave it to Canadian hockey fans to argue the ethics and morality of the decision if, in fact, it plays out that way.

HOCKEY CANADA MARCHES ON

Lowe expected to speak with Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky, his close friend and former Oilers teammate, either later yesterday or today.

The Great One left his post as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday to be with his ailing mother, Phyllis, who continues to battle cancer in Brantford, Gretzky's home town.

Hockey Canada officials, sympathetic to the plight of the Gretzky family, said Wayne's contribution to selecting the Olympic team is not a priority right now.

"(Wayne) always makes the right decision," Lowe said.

Speaking of decisions, Lowe said there still are some to be made concerning the whittling down of the Olympic roster.

The Team Canada brass was attempting to put together a conference call for this morning. Officials then hope to meet Wednesday morning, hours before the team is slated to be unveiled in Vancouver.

But be aware that nothing is etched in stone, given the Gretzky situation.

"I suspect we'll continue on as planned, although I can't say for certain," Lowe said.

NASH MAKES SPLASH

Rick Nash sent a message to the naysayers on Saturday.

The Brampton native needed less than half a period during his much-anticipated return to action against Nashville to score his first goal of the season.

In the process, he served notice to Team Canada officials that his healing left knee is well enough to warrant his selection.

The young power forward now seems like a logical choice, especially with teams now having the luxury of carrying a three-man taxi squad.

"It's going to take some time to find where each other are out there but, for stepping out there and not practising, it is pretty positive," Nash said of his comeback.

Unfortunately for Nash and his teammates, the Blue Jackets lost the game 7-3.

LUC LUCKY NO MORE

Future Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille is not a happy camper after being made a healthy scratch for two consecutive games by Los Angeles Kings coach Andy Murray.

"I know how much I've given to this team ... even to Andy," Robitaille told the Los Angeles Times. "It really bothers me that I'm not playing. I feel I should be playing."

Murray and Robitaille held a closed-door meeting Saturday.

THE WEEK AHEAD

The Americans announce their Olympic roster today. If Jeremy Roenick is not selected, he vows to cheer for Team Canada from the press box ... Team Canada is slated to reveal its roster Wednesday. All teams must announce their players by Thursday ... The Maple Leafs have back-to-back divisional games against the Joe Thornton-less Boston Bruins on Thursday and Friday.


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