One mission

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Pat Quinn limped out of the Air Canada Centre the other day, an old leg injury and a nasty corn on his foot causing his discomfort.

The hair on the back of his head was longer than usual and he chewed on his gum almost as furiously as during a tight hockey game.

While the Maple Leafs head coach certainly has a Stanley Cup trophy on his mind, he hasn't been neglecting the prospecting for gold. Yes, gold also is much on Quinn's mind these days. He won world championship gold as Team Canada's manager in Finland in 1997. He then followed his managerial stint up by coaching Team Canada to Olympic gold in 2002 at Salt Lake City. To make it three in a row, Quinn coached Team Canada to a gold-medal win in the 2004 World Cup.

Quinn's next prospecting trip will take him to Turin, home of the famous Italian soccer teams Juventus and FC Torino.

So, with a brief time allotted for lunch at Ted Nicolau's famous Harbour 60 restaurant across from the ACC, Quinn found time to respond to several issues surrounding the Canadian men's entry in the 2006 Olympic Games before leaving town for the next Leafs game.

As head coach, how involved were you in the Olympic team selection?

Quinn: "All of us coaches and the management were involved in the team selection. We were asked questions by Wayne Gretzky, Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini. Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson was involved more as a manager. At first, we had a long list of players to watch and watch them we did. We also had several conference calls and a couple of meetings. But the final decision was made by management."

Did you, as head coach, have veto power?

Quinn: "I didn't think I was given that right. However, if I was adamant on a certain player, the management would listen to me. I certainly would not say that I didn't want a certain player on the team. Our group was constructed with complete openness so that every one of us could make a point about a certain player. Wayne Gretzky is not a dictatorial individual. He likes group decisions."

Were there certain positions on the team where you could insist on certain player selection?

Quinn: "We didn't need that kind of an approach. Once we opened a discussion, we reached a consensus. We were looking for players with top ability in three areas -- skating, intelligence and a personality fit for a team player. We believe that personal ego is important in hockey, but the team concept must come first.

"In Turin, there will be five good teams with terrific talent. The Russians in particular are very talented. So are we, of course, and we are hoping that we selected the right players. We had strong discussions but nobody was pounding the table. We were also team building among ourselves. We were, on occasion, strong in our arguments, but at the end of the day we decided together."

Have you got any line combinations in mind?

Quinn: "I have my notes from training camp as well as from the World Cup and the last Olympics. For instance, Joe Thornton and Rick Nash played extremely well together. I liked very much our line of Joe Sakic-Simon Gagne-Jarome Iginla. There is also the Tampa Bay line of Vincent Lecavalier-Martin St. Louis-Brad Richards to consider and two-way players Kris Draper and Shane Doan, who can score all-important goals, are also very much in the picture. But right now, nothing is written in stone."

What about defensive pairings?

Quinn: "Various combinations are possible. Chris Pronger and Ed Jovanovski are a strong pair. Scott Niedermayer and Robyn Regehr are another strong duo. Then we have Wade Redden, Adam Foote and Rob Blake. It is certain that all seven defencemen will play."

What about Maple Leafs' high-scoring defenceman Bryan McCabe?

Quinn: "Bryan is on the taxi squad and he can practise with the team, but cannot stay in the Olympic Village because there isn't enough space. He can replace only an injured defenceman who is then out of the tournament."

Barring injuries, how will the decision be made on the starting goalie?

Quinn: "We will meet with all three goalies and talk to them. Our most experienced goaltender is, of course, Martin Brodeur. But with eight games in 12 nights, we will definitely play two goalies, possibly all three of them. We'll make the final decision at the last practice in Toronto, or after the first workout in Turin."

What do you think about the selection of Todd Bertuzzi, which created an uproar across the land?

Quinn: "What he did is not acceptable. But, he was punished for it. There may be an argument (among hockey fans) whether he was punished enough. However, he has enough talent to be named to the team, even though we don't condone his action in that particular league game."

How will the team finish in the Olympics?

Quinn: "When we leave here, we leave for only one thing -- to win the gold medal. Nothing else is acceptable ..."

No one will ever accuse Pat Quinn of limping when it comes to discussing hockey.

Happy New Year to all Sun readers!

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

When one is restricted to one column a week -- Sundays -- and that day falls on Christmas Day when the Sun does not publish, the thanks to our personal friends and devoted Sun readers who helped us pass the $30,000 mark in this year's Sun Variety Village Christmas Fund Drive for challenged youngsters, had to wait an extra week. Mort Greenberg, the annual "Santa" of our fund checked in with a cheque and cash for $7,030; Colin Lorimer, retired president of Yardley's, collected $505 at the Skyline Club's Dawn Busters breakfast, then added $245 to make it a $750 donation. Jack Dominico came up with $250 on behalf of the Toronto Maple Leafs Baseball Club. Former Sun publisher Les Pyette came in with $500. Woodbine Entertainment's voices David Wilmot and Glenn Crouter galloped in with $500. David Swail, interim publisher of the Sun, contributed $100 and Darren Dreger, on behalf of Rogers Sportsnet's Hockey Central, added $450. Bless you all.

In the first of a three-part series, George Gross talks to Pat Quinn -- the Olympic coach. Next Sunday, Quinn -- the Maple Leafs coach -- and the following Sunday, Quinn -- the family man.


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