The usual suspects

Wayne Gretzky laughs during a news conference at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Grand...

Wayne Gretzky laughs during a news conference at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Grand Forks, N.D., Sunday, Jan. 2, 2005.(CP PHOTO/Ryan Remiorz)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:51 AM ET

No speculation. No controversy.

Wayne Gretzky simply rounded up all the usual suspects.

But this time, because a significant number of them haven't played much meaningful hockey in a year, maybe they are suspects.

"Out of sight, out of mind. There's not as much speculation or controversy because there was no hockey last year,'' said Gretzky on a media conference call yesterday to announce the selection of 36 players to take to Kelowna for a mid-August Team Canada Olympic orientation camp.

"This time I think all the speculation and the controversy will come during September and December when people start looking at picking the actual 23-man team itself. Some guys who won't be at this camp will step up and there are guys who will be at the camp who don't play as well.

"This will by no means be a tryout camp, it's more of a celebration of getting hockey back where it should be.''

The campers feature 26 players from the team which won the World Cup of Hockey last September, 19 from the team which settled for silver at the World Hockey Championships in Vienna and 14 from the gold-medal team at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games.

The team includes Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Smyth and Eric Brewer, Edmonton natives Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester, Edmonton-born Scott Niedermayer, Lloydminster's Wade Redden, Halkirk's Shane Doan and Fort McMurray's Chris Phillips.

CONTINGENT ON CBA

The camp is contingent on the NHL and NHLPA settling on a new collective bargaining agreement, now believed to be down to days, and the inclusion of NHL players to go to Torino as part of the deal.

As for what the 36 players are going to look like returning to the game after a year away, the majority of them not having had a full season in Europe or elsewhere last year, that's a fair question, said coach Pat Quinn.

"We're going to find out.''

Quinn says the mid-August camp in Kelowna will go a long way to successfully defending the first gold medal Canada won in 50 years at the Salt Lake Winter Olympics.

"We have the same approximate number of players coming to Calgary as we had in the summer of 2001 to put together a plan of play and some systems work and create some chemistry. Winning teams have a chemistry with the players involved.''

GREAT PLAYER

Conspicuous by their absence are Paul Kariya and Todd Bertuzzi.

"Paul is a great player but at some point you have to have a cutoff,'' said Gretzky.

As for Bertuzzi, he's still under suspension. "It's really out of our hands, as was the case for the World Cup.''

Yzerman and Lemieux will both be 40 by the time the Olympics roll around in February.

"I had conversations with both of those guys,'' said Gretzky. "They are extremely honest about their situation. They bring so many intangibles to the hockey team. The pressure on players is so enormous. The pressure they take off the other players is something you can't measure.''

There are plenty of players, such as Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic, Niedermayer, Rob Blake, Brewer, Adam Foote, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis, who said no to Team Canada for the Worlds, who have been invited to camp.

If there is any criticism of the team selected, it's that there was not much reward for going to the world championships or penalty for saying no to Canada.

"A lot of times there are legitimate reasons why players can't come. In this era, we have to be a little bit sensible. We want to win the gold medal in Italy. We want to select the best players to go to Torino,'' said Gretzky.

"Almost all of these players have answered the bell for Canada in the past. A guy like Ryan Smyth is a pretty special individual each and every time beyond the call of duty. He's been remarkable. The bottom line is you can't let feelings and past situations become involved.''


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