SUN Hockey Pool

Will NHLers be at Sochi?

Sidney Crosby celebrates scoring the gold medal winning goal during the Olympic hockey game between...

Sidney Crosby celebrates scoring the gold medal winning goal during the Olympic hockey game between Canada and the U.S. in Vancouver on February 28, 2010. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI Agency Files)

Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:30 AM ET

VANCOUVER - Sit in the stands here at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena long enough during a practice and inevitably you will hear the following question from an out-of-town reporter who was not fortunate enough to cover the memorable 2010 Olympic hockey competition.

“Hey, do you happen to know which end Crosby scored his gold medal-winning goal at?”

It came up last season when the Maple Leafs made their annual visit to the Left Coast of Canada. And yours truly was asked about it again on Friday as the Toronto press corps waited for the Leafs to come out for their early afternoon workout.

Such is the magic of a special Olympic hockey moment in this country.

Interestingly, the sport now finds itself directly in the middle of the Vancouver and Sochi Olympic hockey competitions. It was two years ago this month that Canada was in this arena grinding toward gold. And, two years from now, the world will gather in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Games.

Moreover, in two weeks, Canada will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its milestone gold medal victory over the Americans at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. That gold medal, of course, was the first won by Canada in 50 years.

Of course, if it was up to the fans, having NHLers attend the Sochi Olympics would be a slam dunk. But, as we all know, it has become a negotiating issue that will be hammered out during the upcoming CBA negotiations between players and owners.

The league, of course, is concerned about how the time difference will effect television viewership, seeing as games starting in prime time in Russia would be shown live around noon on the East Coast of North America. There also has been bitching about the compressed NHL schedule that would result from the Olympic break.

Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo doesn’t care about any of that. For the man who was between the pipes for Canada when Sid The Kid slid the puck past American goalie Ryan Miller in overtime of the championship game feels the Olympics are a must-attend event.

“You grow up watching things like the Canada Cups, World Cups and Olympics,” Luongo said. “The hockey is of such high quality. It’s such an honour to represent your country on such a world stage.

“I would love to see us go again.”

For Hockey Canada officials, there is no waiting to see what the NHL and the players union will decide. Preparations already have started for Sochi. If the decision is made not to go, well, it is easier to cancel plans on short notice rather than start them.

“We’ve been moving forward since Vancouver as if we will go to Sochi,” Brad Pascall, vice president of operations for Hockey Canada’s national teams, said on Saturday. “There are so many logistical things to cover. The time change. The difference in food. Transportation. Culture. Things like that.

“Don’t forget, too, that the Sochi hockey tournament will be played on an Olympic-sized ice surface. In Vancouver, it was played on an NHL-sized sheet.

“At some point, we have to think about staffing too. We usually like to have (coaches, GM, etc) in place well ahead of time.”

The bottom line here?

“We’re hopeful the NHL and the NHLPA can work out an agreement so we can go,” Pascall said.

Here’s what union head Donald Fehr had to say about the Sochi issue during an interview with the Toronto Sun earlier this season.

“There are a lot of players who are very interested in it,” Fehr said. “There are others who feel the potential disruption of the season, especially going seven eight nine time zones away, and the squeezing of the schedule that results at both ends from the hiatus, would not be worth it. There are other individuals within the game ... who think that, while you get a tremendous bump if they’re in North America or not too many time zones away from what the viewing audience watches, that it may not be true if its in the far east or central Asia.

“So, we’ll have to see.”

If it was up to Luongo, Pascall and most hockey fans, NHLers would already be booking their tickets to Russia.

WHAT TEAM CANADA COULD LOOK LIKE

Two years removed from Sidney Crosby’s golden goal, Team Canada’s roster at the 2014 Sochi Winter games (if NHL players go) could look decidedly different from the one that sent this entire country into a frenzied celebration.

Here’s the guesstimate of what the team might look like in 2014. Of course, two years down the road, we all might look back at this list and laugh (Or, in the case of yours truly, weep).

Forwards (13)

Sidney Crosby (PIT), Steven Stamkos (TB), John Tavares (TB), Eric Staal (CAR), Jonathan Toews (CHI), Claude Giroux (PHI), Corey Perry (ANA), Rick Nash (CLB), Ryan Getzlaf (ANA), Jason Spezza (ANA), Taylor Hall (EDM), Jordan Eberle (EDM), Patrice Bergeron (BOS).

The Skinny

Sid the Kid’s inclusion is predicated on his health. If he plays, slap the “C” on him now ... Let the debate begin on the final five spots ... Veteran candidates include Martin St. Louis (TB), who could line up with Stamkos; Jarome Iginla (CAL); Joe Thornton (SJ); Patrick Marleau (SJ); Brad Richards (NYR); Mike Richards (LA) ... Some of the top young guns vying for spots include Matt Duchene (COL); Tyler Seguin (BOS); Jamie Benn (DAL); Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM) ... Two players in their prime who are trying to make their first Olympic team are Patrick Sharp (CHI) and Joffrey Lupul (TOR).

Defencemen (7)

Shea Weber (NASH), Kris Letang (PIT), Duncan Keith (CHI), Brent Seabrook (CHI), Drew Doughty (LA), Alex Pietrangelo (STL), Dan Girardi (NYR)

The Skinny

Weber and Letang are slam dunks ... Keith, Seabrook and Doughty are having off years but are still frontrunners ... Pietrangelo a real up-and-comer while Girardi chews up minutes and is a shot-blocking machine ... Among the other candidates, there are questions. How much will Dan Boyle (SJ) have left in the tank? Is Brent Burns (SJ) poised for the big stage, perhaps to be paired with Boyle? Is Kevin Bieksa (VAN) ready for prime time? Can the talented P.K. Subban (MTL) cut out the schtick and concentrate on hockey? Some Leafs fans will push for Dion Phaneuf (TOR) but will anyone else? Will Tyler Myers (BUF) have taken the next step by then?

Goal (3)

Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), Carey Price (MTL), Roberto Luongo (VAN)

The Skinny

Once a position of strength for Canada, this country no longer dominates between the pipes ... Cam Ward (CAR) would be the other leading candidate that many would feel should get the nod over Luongo ... To his credit, Luongo has rediscovered his game the past three months. Bobby Lou does have an Olympic gold medal but critics claim Canada won in spite of his efforts.

A WORLDS OF IMPORTANCE

If you are a Canadian hockey fan who thinks the world hockey championship is just a B-grade tournament for NHLers whose teams are not in the playoffs, guess again.

According to Brad Pascall, the 2012 worlds, which will be held in Stockholm and Helsinki from May 4 to 20, will have a vital impact on Team Canada heading into the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

“These worlds will determine what the seedings will be for the Olympics,” explained Pascall, the vice president of operations for Hockey Canada’s national teams.

“The better a team does at these worlds, the more favourable schedule you’ll have in Sochi.

“It even trickles down to things like getting better dressing rooms, things like that.”

In other words, if Canada does not do well in May, it will find itself in a tougher pool with stronger opponents in Sochi.

The bottom line is this: The 2012 worlds will have even more significance than normal for those players fortunate enough to be wearing the red Maple Leaf on their chests.

If that’s possible.

SOME ROOTING FOR SEATTLE

Despite the concerns in Quebec City, it may come to pass that the NHL never sees a team play in Seattle.

Sure, it’s nice to hear that there are plans in place to build an arena in Washington State’s largest city in the hopes of wooing NBA and NHL franchises. But let’s be honest here. Efforts in Quebec City are far ahead of those in Seattle.

Of course, based on geography alone, those here on Canada’s left coast would not mind seeing a franchise placed in the city that already houses the NFL’s Seahawks and MLB Mariners.

Right now the closest NHL teams to the Canucks are the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, squads that play in markets that are a 90-minute flight away.

If Seattle were to get a team, the drive would be just 21/2 hours between arenas.

“I don’t know if it would ever happen,” Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo said. “But we’d definitely have fans coming down in their cars to support us, that’s for sure.”


Videos

Photos