SUN Hockey Pool

Maple leaf forever

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Of course he'd go as a checker.

Ryan Smyth will check coats. He'll check equipment. He'll check whatever needs, well, checking, although opposing forwards have until now been his forte. If it needs doing, it's done. Olympics. World Cup. World Championship. World Junior Championship. Whatever.

That's the kind of selflessness that's made Smyth what he is.

He's Captain Canada, the Edmonton Oilers mulleted marvel who has been given that moniker for wearing this country's silks so often.

All Smyth wants to do is drape himself in the maple leaf and play hockey. All he wants is a jersey when Wayne Gretzky and Team Canada's brass announces its 23-man roster Dec. 21.

Will he get it?

"There's so many great players nowadays," Smyth said. "I'd love to be a part of it again, but I'm not taking anything for granted. There's always tough competition for a spot and that's a good thing. I've been fortunate in the past.

"I've been a part of some great teams. It's going to be wait-and-see until they name the team."

If Smyth has been told he's in, he isn't saying. Likewise, if Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, one of the decision makers, has told him, he isn't saying. It's a roster - drum roll please - that'll be kept under wraps for another 10 days.

"There's guys who won two championships at the Olympics and World Cup who know what it takes," Lowe said.

BIG NAMES ON MARQUEE

On a team that'll be loaded with bigger names on the marquee, Smyth is one of those players - and there have been many - who fits the bill because he'll do any job asked of him.

Need a first-line left-winger? He's in. Need a fourth-line energy guy? Sure. Play out of position? OK. Just gimme a number - 94, please - already.

It's a can-do philosophy that has seen Smyth play in seven consecutive World Championships from 1999 to 2005, the last five as Team Canada's captain. He won a gold medal at the 2002 Olympics, and, another at the 2004 World Cup.

One other thing - the guy who wants to go to another Olympics so bad he'll take whatever role he's assigned isn't only Canada's all-time games-played leader at World Championships with 60, he's also scored 15-16-31.

"I think back to Brent Sutter in the 1984 Canada Cup," Lowe said. "He played a checking role. Dale Hawerchuk played a checking role.

"Those are the best guys because they're guys you know have offence. Given the opportunity, they're going to put it in the net. And they're not going to hurt you defensively."

After winning gold at Salt Lake, a gig Smyth made because he refused to let a badly broken ankle stop him, he wants another crack at it.

TIME HASN'T CAUGHT UP

At 29, one or two is all Smyth might get in terms of the Olympics. Time has yet to catch up with him like it has Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux, but he's got more games on the international stage behind him than in front of him.

"You're not just representing yourself. You're representing the whole country. So you have to buy into the system," remarks Smyth, who says he'd didn't know he was on the 2002 Olympic roster until Lowe phoned him 10 minutes before the official announcement was made on television.

"Scorers become checkers and checkers can become scorers. You accept the role you're given. Whatever that role is, I'd be happy to accept it - if they asked me to play."

Held off the score sheet in Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Islanders, Smyth has scored 13-10-23 in 23 games.

Good, but nowhere near the top of the mix Gretzky and Lowe are considering up front. Fine.

"I don't want to guess," smiles Smyth, asked if he's got a gut feeling about being named to the team. "It's not for me to guess. It's up to them to decide. I want to be a part of it, no question."

Captain Canada deserves that chance.


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