SUN Hockey Pool

Watching, waiting

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

Chris Pronger will be watching like every other Canadian hockey player and fan.

He won't be sitting there in his hotel room in Vancouver, squeezing a good luck charm, hoping, wishing and praying. But he'll be watching.

"You want to know who is going to be on the team. You want to know what the make-up of the team is going to be like. Let's not kid ourselves, it's a tough job they've got," he said of Wayne Gretzky, Kevin Lowe and the braintrust announcing Canada's Olympic hockey team today.

Pronger knows without having to get a phone call from Gretzky, who with the death of his mother yesterday won't likely be making them anyway, that he's going to be on the team.

He knows any veteran Team Canada player who has been in the Nagano and Salt Lake Olympics - and who has played well the last four years - doesn't have to worry.

"Losing Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman makes veteran leadership and experience pretty important this time," he said.

"You need guys who were there when we lost to Sweden and everybody jumped off the bandwagon. You need guys who know the ups and downs and all the critiquing."

For Pronger, the thing about being a Team Canada Olympian this time is that he's now playing for a Canadian team.

"It's an exciting time. Being on a Canadian team makes it even more exciting. You're a little out of the loop when you're playing in St. Louis. In Canada, they keep hockey in the forefront, that's for sure."

IN THE FOREFRONT

Pronger and the Oilers have been in the forefront since his arrival as a free agent in the off-season, save for the Eskimos' Grey Cup run and a week of curling.

"What was that? The Brier?" he asked.

Actually, it was your fellow Olympians, Chris. Ah, it's a common condition in this country. There are the hockey Olympians and all those other people.

Pronger says it's tough for a hockey player to identify with them, the skaters who wait four years and miss a gold because they fall on a combination jump or lose an edge.

"It's every four years and you have one chance to do it. I mean you've got three laps in short track speedskating, somebody clips your skate and you go down and the gold medal is gone."

On the other hand, they've never missed a medal because they lost a shootout like he did with the Nagano '98 team. "That's a tough way to lose," he said.

Winning the first Canadian gold in hockey four years later in Salt Lake made up for it.

'PRETTY BIG THING'

"I was lucky because right after we got back, St. Louis went on a Western road trip. We played our first game in Vancouver, then came here and then went to Calgary. It was a pretty big thing the way the Team Canada players on our team were received and I'll always remember it."

With almost half a hockey season gone, Pronger has had time to figure out what he makes of playing here. He says he's enjoyed the atmosphere, although you always know where the fans stand. "Right now they're happy," he said the way the team has been playing of late.

So is he. "I'm pleased the way the team is getting better. I like our team."

But he says it's also been good away from the rink. "When we go out for dinner, the people are good. The people are great. They'll ask questions about the powerplay and this play and that play."

Like the one against Calgary where he coughed up the puck and the Flame hit the post? "Yeah, like that. 'What were you doing?' "

While he's had to reinvent himself to a certain extent with the new rules, Pronger has been enjoying the new NHL.

"It's been great hockey. Great entertainment. I feel great," said the defenceman, who is averaging 28:19 minutes a game. "I'm not nearly as tired after a game."

That's now.

"The guys coming out of the Olympics in March are going to come out in a body bag," said coach Craig MacTavish of the compact schedule.

No Canadian hockey players are going to be thinking about that today.


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