GM thinks taxi squad will Staal progress

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

Jim Rutherford doesn't want to stand in the way of a golden opportunity.

But the Carolina Hurricanes GM isn't thrilled with the idea of star centre Eric Staal going to Italy in February and not even getting a chance to practice or feel like he's part of Team Canada.

As it stands now, Staal, Ottawa centre Jason Spezza and Toronto defenceman Bryan McCabe will play the role of cheerleaders for Canada at the Olympics in Turin, Italy.

In fact, the Canadian taxi squad won't have much more access than the guy who buys a ticket to cheer on Team Canada, because they're not allowed to stay in the Olympic village or even workout with the team.

And that doesn't sit well with Rutherford, who is hoping Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky can use his great weight to get the International Olympic Committee to change the rules so that Staal, Spezza and McCabe don't just sit around.

"My belief is that if they're going to have these taxi squads, they should just be part of a 26-man roster so everybody is part of the team and they feel like they are part of the team," Rutherford said yesterday from his Raleigh, N.C., office.

NO ICE AVAILABLE

"They should be allowed to go there, stay with the team and be allowed to practice. In the case of Eric Staal, he's going to be in Italy for 12 days. If he's not allowed to practice with the team -- and I think it's going to be difficult to find ice otherwise -- I don't really think it's very beneficial for (Staal) to spend that many days off the ice with such an important part of the year coming up for us when play resumes. You want the guys practising and preparing for the rest of the season if they're not going to get a chance to play."

Rutherford hasn't had a chance to voice his concerns to Gretzky since the team was announced last week. Gretzky has been dealing with the death of his mother, Phyllis, and only returned to his job as coach of the Coyotes last night.

But Gretzky has talked about the rules with officials from the International Ice Hockey Federation and it's believed they have approached the IOC about the matter because when the Great One speaks, people listen.

The players aren't sure what's going to happen.

Gretzky called all three last Wednesday to inform them of their selections to the taxi squad, but the players say all they were told was to stay ready.

Now, there is a chance somebody could get hurt before Team Canada leaves in mid-February, which means Staal, Spezza or McCabe could be pushed into active duty. But that's not the case now and nobody can count on any injuries occurring.

"I don't know what is going to happen or where we would stay or if we could practice," said Spezza. "Hopefully, we're at least going to get to practice with the team. I guess we could go to the games and sit in the stands. If that's the case, maybe (Staal) and I will be just there having beers, watching the games."

Yes, Spezza was joking about sipping pints, but that's exactly what Rutherford wants to avoid. He wants the players to go to Italy for hockey experience, not a trip that turns into nothing more than an extended vacation.

ONLY A FLIGHT AWAY

"My suggestion would be if (Gretzky) isn't able to get the rules changed so these players can at least practice with Team Canada, then maybe they need to look at the way these three players are used," said Rutherford.

"Maybe, they go over there for a week and see if anybody gets hurt. It that doesn't happen, then they return to their respective cities and practice with their teams.

"That way, if somebody does go down, then these players are just a flight away. As it stands now, I don't know what they'd be like to just step in there and play if they aren't even allowed to practice.

"How much would they really help the team in that kind of situation? They might be better off being back in North America practising with their teams."


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