Tambellini has difficult task

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

All Steve Tambellini had to do was look at the Corel Centre ice and he could have filled out a huge portion of Team Canada's roster.

Nobody would argue if the director of player personnel for Canada's entry in the Turin Olympics decided to invite Senators Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Wade Redden and Chris Phillips after last night's game.

Then, he could have taken a few steps down the hallway to the Lightning dressing room where Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis and Ottawa native Dan Boyle are also awaiting word on their status.

But it's not that easy. Canada doesn't have to name its roster until Dec. 22 and according to Tambellini, the staff -- led by executive director Wayne Gretzky -- the job will not be as easy as it was for Salt Lake City in 2002.

"We have double the people at every position competing for spots. This is going to be a lot more difficult than it was the last time," said Tambellini, who doubles as the assistant GM of the Canucks, during a break in action of the Bolts-Senators game.

"I guess if the job is difficult, then that's a good thing. We could have two teams. I don't have any question about it. What we've been consistent about is that we make sure we take the right people. We've got a lot of work left to do."

After naming a preliminary roster of 81 hopefuls last month, scouts from Canada -- including Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe and Hockey Canada's Marc Habscheid -- are fanning out across the country to watch players perform.

There were some good examples on the ice last night. Heatley, the MVP of the world championship last spring in Austria, set up Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson's goal in the second period. St. Louis countered, setting up Richards for a goal with a perfect pass.

Spezza is also trying to get noticed. He has made it a goal this season to play for Canada and he's completed one hurdle by getting named to the list of 81, but he's got to remain hot to stay in the running.

"There isn't a Canadian hockey player who doesn't want to play for his country," said Tambellini. "They're all trying to make this team, but the unfortunate thing is we can only take 23 players.

"We can't take everybody. I'm sure right after we name our team, the issue isn't going to be who is on the team, it's going to be who isn't. That's okay because there are plenty of players who deserve the chance to play for Canada.

"Even when we made our list of 81 players, we weren't able to put guys like (Senators forward) Mike Fisher, who played very well for me at the world championships, (Vancouver forward) Matt Cooke and (Anaheim goaltender) J.S. Giguere on the list."

The list has to be cut down and that's the tough part. While guys like Joe Sakic, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman and Adam Foote have carried the torch for Canada, there's a group of young players making Gretzky and Co. take notice.

That's where the toughest decisions lie for the country. Not only do the architects of this Team Canada have to look at these Olympics in Italy, they also have to take a look down the road to Vancouver in 2010 -- where the pressure to win gold will be turned up big time.

"What we've seen is a wave of young Canadian players, who have really come into their own, and they're pushing for spots. That's making the decision even more difficult," said Tambellini.

"The bottom line, and Wayne has always said this, is when the coach looks down his bench, he has to be comfortable with the people who are sitting on it. You want to make sure you have the right people playing in the right situations.

"At the end of the day, what I'm hoping is the players will sort the situation out themselves and make the decisions a little easier. That's usually the way it happens."

Unfortunately, not everybody on the ice last night is going to get a shot at Olympic gold for Canada.


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