The gang's all back for Turin

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

If NHL players are given the expected permission to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Pat Quinn gladly will take the break in the schedule to guide Team Canada again.

"I was really blessed to be asked in 2002 and to have an opportunity to go again is a highlight," Quinn said yesterday during a conference call as Hockey Canada outlined its plans for the Olympics. "It's a wonderful thing. I hope the NHL will be allowed to go because it means I'll be going. I'm excited to be part of that quest for another gold medal."

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson announced officially yesterday Wayne Gretzky will be back as the executive director of the men's team, with Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini riding shotgun. Quinn's coaching staff, which was behind the gold-medal win in Salt Lake City three years ago, is back intact, with assistants Jacques Martin, Ken Hitchcock and Wayne Fleming. National team coach Marc Habscheid has been added as an assistant.

Habscheid will be the head coach if NHL players are not in Turin, with a different staff of assistants. If the NHL is in full session and players are not made available for Turin, Quinn and company would have to fulfill their obligations to their NHL clubs.

The thinking is NHLers will be in Turin as long as a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NHL Players' Association, which should be done some time in the next three weeks or so. Talks between the sides -- which resume today in New York -- have been progressing slowly but surely for a while but if they drag on longer than expected, a season that has a delayed start would not lend itself to having a break in February.

Gretzky acknowledged that having NHL players take time off following the lockout might not sit well with some league owners.

"We just missed a full season and I know there is probably some concerns from owners, probably more in the U.S., in the sense of getting started again and trying to build that enthusiasm for the NHL and then having to shut down for 17 days," Gretzky said. "We think it's important not only for people in Canada, but in the NHL."

Gretzky said among his wishes is to have Mario Lemieux return as captain. But Sidney Crosby, who will be the first pick in the next entry draft, will not be invited to an orientation camp in August.

"The real evaluation is from September to December and if he is in the top 23 players, he will be part of the team," Gretzky said. "I hope in December we have to pick him because he has earned that right.

Hockey Canada has scheduled the camp for 34 NHL players in August in Vancouver and Kelowna, B.C., if a green light is given for participation. The plan is to have those players hook up for a day or two with the participants in the national junior team's devlopment camp so the younger players can rub shoulders with the NHLers.

Just to be sure, 31 non-NHL players began a camp yesterday in Edmonton and they would help comprise the team if the NHL is excluded.


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