SUN Hockey Pool

Youth taking a backseat to experience

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Even a lot of people who should know better tend to look at each Team Canada as a snapshot.

In fact, it is now -- and always will be as long as this management group is in power -- a frame in a movie.

The selectors look backward and they look forward. And they see each frame as a part of an ongoing story.

They remember those who have done the job in the past and they try to predict who will be on the team in the future.

They're as aware as anyone that four years is a long time in the life of a hockey player, but, even so, they recognize the importance of continuity and passing the torch.

The world stage is a whole different level of play, even for those who have advanced through two or three rounds of the National Hockey League playoffs. And just as everyone realizes that elite-level experience is crucial in the Stanley Cup final, so is experience at the highest level an important aspect of any Olympic victory.

With all those factors in mind, very few surprises emanated yesterday from the announcement of the 2006 Olympic team.

The majority of the team was obvious. But when you look at the so-called "bubble players," their status was never really much in doubt. They all are perfect fits in view of the long-established pattern relied upon by this management group.

Kris Draper? He is not making many offensive contributions to the Detroit Red Wings, but there's a reason for that. In this era of power-play hockey, Draper doesn't often get to perform in situations where he's expected to score. Instead, he is expected to kill penalties consistently and he is doing a superb job of it.

Todd Bertuzzi? He is one of the best power forwards in the world, and in the Olympics a player's rap sheet in the NHL is largely irrelevant. Furthermore, Wayne Gretzky said repeatedly while Bertuzzi was under suspension that if he were eligible to play, he would be on the team. Gretzky is a man of his word.

Adam Foote? There were those who suggested he has not had a good year. Certainly his Columbus Blue Jackets have not had a good year. But for those who have seen the games and not just the summaries, there was no reason at all to exclude such a proven warrior as Foote. In the past two Olympics, the partnership of Foote and Rob Blake was nothing short of magnificent. The organizers remember that.

Shane Doan? He was on the World Cup 2004 team and the 2005 world championship team. As his coach in Phoenix, Gretzky is aware of Doan's dressing-room leadership qualities. And the Olympic team, having lost Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux, is in need of a rugged honest player who will accept nothing less than the best from his teammates.

Ryan Smyth? He has been a part of so many national teams that he's known as Captain Canada. As a result, he'd have to be awful to be left out, and he hasn't been that by any stretch. He has made it clear he can do what the organizers want -- be part of a checking group that can shut down any line in the world and pop in the occasional goal of its own.

Looking to the past, the organizers had no problem picking those players. As for looking to the future, they named Roberto Luongo and Marty Turco over Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph.

They also put Rick Nash on the team. During the lockout season, he showed more improvement than any player in the world. As the eldest of the four "youngsters" and someone who is likely to be a contributor for years to come, he was given a spot on the team.

The next two youngsters, in terms of age, Eric Staal and Jason Spezza, are on the taxi squad. The youngest, Sidney Crosby was a victim of the numbers.

But Nash, Staal and Spezza will savour the Olympic experience to varying degrees. Next time, they'll be the locks and some other youngsters will replace the departed veterans.

That's the way it works.


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