Mario says no to Turin

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:24 PM ET

CALGARY -- The Olympic door might have opened a little bit wider for Senators centre Jason Spezza, thanks to his hockey idol.

Penguins centre Mario Lemieux made it official yesterday, saying he's informed Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky he won't be going to the Olympics because it's time for Team Canada to get younger.

"It's tough because (Lemieux) is a guy who I loved to watch play growing up," said Spezza. "He's a big part of the reason that I'm in the game and to see him say he's not going to play there is kind of sad.

"You never want to get an opportunity to go to a team because somebody got hurt. That's not the way you want to do it. It's the same as being called up from the minors because somebody got hurt.

"That being said, I have to look at this as a chance to play on the (Olympic) team and hopefully it will work out well for me."

Lemieux called it the right decision to make.

"I told (Gretzky) I would pass on the Olympics," said Lemieux, who spent a couple of days in hospital last week with a heart condition. "With the way I have been playing so far and with the young guys we have coming up in Canada, I think the best thing to do is go with the young guys, the young legs."

Lemieux said Gretzky should consider Spezza, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Carolina's Eric Staal.

"I think it's time for these guys to step up and they deserve to be on the team," said Lemieux, who offered advice to Spezza last summer at a golf tournament the two attended.

The decision by Lemieux wasn't a shock, but he is the second veteran in a week to say no thanks to Turin.

Veteran Steve Yzerman also has bowed out and that helped Spezza's chances.

Spezza also has one advantage Staal and Crosby don't: Linemate Dany Heatley, who's considered a lock to make the Turin team. They've played together all season and, along with Daniel Alfredsson, form two-thirds of the best line in the NHL .

"Hopefully, that helps," said Spezza. "There's definitely some chemistry there."


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