SUN Hockey Pool

Joyful day has sad twinge

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

With heavy hearts, Team Canada's leaders will hook up today and announce selections for the 2006 Olympic men's hockey team at 5 p.m.

What was to be a joyful occasion for the brass and the 23 players chosen to defend the gold medal will be tinged with sadness after Phyllis Gretzky, the mother of executive director Wayne Gretzky and perhaps the country's symbolic hockey matriarch, passed away Monday evening. It's not known what role a grieving Wayne Gretzky will have in this morning's final cutdown conference call. He remains at the family's Brantford home, preparing for tomorrow's funeral.

"Foremost, our prayers are with the family," Brad Pascall, director of communications for Hockey Canada, said last night as arrangements were made for today's news conference in Vancouver. "Bob Nicholson (Hockey Canada president) and Kevin Lowe (Gretzky's assistant and general manager of the Edmonton Oilers) are here and have been in contact with Wayne. We're waiting to see what happens (with Gretzky's involvement)."

The management and coaching staff, the latter led by the Maple Leafs' Pat Quinn, will discuss a group of players on the bubble this morning.

Among the hardest decisions will be the potential for bad optics if they include Vancouver Canucks power forward Todd Bertuzzi, whether Columbus Blue Jackets star Rick Nash is a viable candidate after missing much of the regular season because of injury and whether rookie sensation Sidney Crosby is ready for a role.

A Team Canada source told the Ottawa Sun that Nash's inclusion looks good. Simon Gagne of the Philadelphia Flyers lobbied hard for him yesterday.

"It's only December right now so he has got a month-and-a-half to get ready," Gagne told the Delaware County Daily Times. "I played with him at the (2004) world championships. Our line (with Joe Thornton) finished as the top three scorers. I don't know what more they can expect."

Other young forwards hoping to be named -- or at least get on the three-man taxi squad -- are Eric Staal and Jason Spezza. Team Canada assistant coach Jacques Martin of the Florida Panthers said narrowing down this year's team is much harder than in 2002. That group required eight names well in advance of the final announcement.

"Everyone we named was pretty well the captain of their team," said Martin, who is supervising the final cuts with Flyers' coach Ken Hitchcock and Team Canada's Wayne Fleming. "This time, you have the guys from 2002 and the guys from the 2004 World Cup team.

"The good news is that there are lots of great players in Canada and even if we have injuries before the tournament, we have guys who are there for us and ready to step in."

Dany Heatley, whose status on the team is more stable than Ottawa linemate Spezza's, politely pushed for their joint inclusion.

"(Spezza) is a guy that could be No. 1 in the league, week to week, in scoring," Heatley said. "We're having a lot of fun and I'd love to play with him over there."

In addition to the kids, a group of veterans such as Adam Foote and Brendan Shanahan are hoping to be considered.

The full selection committee is made up of Gretzky, Nicholson, Lowe, director of player personnel Steve Tambellini, Hockey Canada coach Marc Habscheid, Hockey Canada director of player personnel Blair Mackasey, plus the coaches.

"It's out of your control, so it won't be crushing (if not picked)," Spezza told the Canadian Press. Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe and netminder Ed Belfour have only an outside chance at selection to the main group of 23.

Shane Doan of Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes scored the winning goal in the final of the World Cup, but he and teammate Curtis Joseph aren't learning Italian in anticipation of making the trip.

Bertuzzi has 11 goals and 18 assists after 33 games this season, but a segment of Canadian fans do not believe he should go as further punishment for his attack on Colorado player Steve Moore almost two years ago.

"Like all the things he's gone through in the last two years, he'll take it in stride," Bertuzzi's agent Pat Morris said of awaiting today's news. "If it doesn't happen then you haven't built yourself up too much to be let down."

Gretzky did invite Bertuzzi to Team Canada's orientation camp in the summer.


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