Olympic lure hooks Savard

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Yes, it's early, and Marc Savard knows he may not be near the top of the average Canadian hockey fan's list of Olympic prospects.

And, yes, he knows there is a lot of hockey to be played over the next year and a lot of hype before the torch is lit in Vancouver.

But when the league takes an extended break next February, not for an all-star game but for the Olympic Games, the Ottawa native suddenly may be a name familiar to Canadians coast-to-coast.

"(The Olympics) are always in the back of my mind, especially with it being in Vancouver," Savard acknowledged yesterday as the Bruins prepared to face the Leafs at the ACC.

"I've got some family there. It would be one of the highlights of my career if I got the chance to play for Canada."

With training camp still months away, it is anything but a short list that Steve Yzerman and his staff are working. And as a smallish centre, the 5-foot-10 Savard might have to move to the wing to get his shot.

There is no denying, however, that he's making his case. Prior to last night's action, Savard was a league-best plus-29, dispelling an old knock that he can't play defence.

As well, his 55 points this season not only lead the Bruins, but are tied for third among Canadian-born NHLers, behind only Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby (60) and Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf (56).

"I think he has earned (the attention)," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Since last year, he has shown he is capable of playing a good two-way game. The criticism he was taking at one point, he kind of silenced that and has kept on doing it this year."

He also has been a testament to perseverance. When discussions about the 2006 Canadian team began, Savard was just starting to play for his third NHL team and finally exhibiting the scoring touch that made him a junior star with the Oshawa Generals.

The New York Rangers, who took him in the fourth round of the 1995 draft, dealt him to Calgary in 1999 and, after a so-so stint there, was traded to Atlanta in 2002.

After a breakthrough 2005-06 season in which he scored 28 goals and 69 assists, Savard was a sought-after free agent. At the time, Savard was public about his desire to come to Toronto. There was a reluctance on the part of Maple Leafs management, however, because of the perception that his 97-point season as a Thrasher was largely the result of being on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk.

So, on the same day the Leafs signed Pavel Kubina, the Bruins landed Savard and the now 31-year-old has been the B's leading scorer ever since.

While the hockey world can't generate enough buzz over John Tavares these days, Savard has one up on the junior sensation. When starring for the Gens, he compiled a club-record 413 points. Before being dealt to the London Knights earlier this month, Tavares was at 381.

"That one is still mine," Savard said. "Good thing he got traded."

NO MIRAGE

Good thing Savard landed in Boston, too. He may have been a late-bloomer, but he also has shown that his big Atlanta campaign was anything but a mirage. Earlier this season, he celebrated his 600th NHL point and has 17 multiple-point efforts in his first 47 games.

"It took some time, I learned along the way," said Savard, who produced 78 and 96 points in the past two seasons. "I've had some ups and downs. I'm happy where I've got to, through hard work."

As much as he would revel in the opportunity to play for his country, in what will be a most anticipated series of games on Canadian soil, he is doing his best not to look too far ahead.

And he knows that the success he has in Boston may earn him the first-class ticket to Vancouver.

"Right now, I'm focused on the Bruins," Savard said. "As long as I play hard here, hopefully I will get noticed and get the chance (to be an Olympian.)"


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