99 wants the best

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:35 AM ET

Some of Wayne Gretzky's ownership pals don't share his enthusiasm for National Hockey League involvement in the Olympics.

But it looks like everyone will be dancing the tarantella in Turin, Italy, after optimism spread for a new collective bargaining deal by early next week. Gretzky and head coach Pat Quinn yesterday confirmed the 36 players invited to Team Canada's orientation camp Aug. 15-20 in Vancouver and Kelowna, B.C.

"I'd be lying if I said all 30 owners are saying, 'Yay, let's go to Italy,' " said Gretzky, who wears two helmets as managing partner of the Phoenix Coyotes and executive director of Team Canada. "This tournament is great for the game. We are preparing the best way we can (with a 'B' team coached by Marc Habscheid), but who goes over depends on owners and the NHL Players' Association."

Certain owners don't want a two-week mid-season shutdown of the league and a condensed schedule after the lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season. But it's a key player demand of the new CBA, which is nearing completion after nine days of consecutive talks ended in New York.

As Gretzky wryly noted yesterday, the camp roster was not accompanied by the usual hue and cry about deserving players getting stiffed. That's because a year off has made selection a very grey area and a great start by any player between the season opener in October and Christmas could land him a ticket to Turin.

Gretzky and his staff invited a broad range of proven Team Canada contributors, from 40-year-olds Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman to young buck Rick Nash. But Gretzky didn't rule out non-listed names, such as Todd Bertuzzi and Paul Kariya. Presumably, junior phenom Sidney Crosby will get a chance if he lights up the 'new' NHL as hoped.

"If a guy is 18 or 38, if he can help us and the whole management staff agrees, they'll be there," Gretzky said. "The actual team will be chosen between September and December and that's when the controversy will arise.

"This camp was to honour all those guys who have answered the bell, who've dropped everything to play for Canada. We don't have the perfect formula (to look at all deserving players), but we have to have some kind of cut-off of numbers."

Gretzky said Lemieux and Yzerman, both slowed by age and injury, were approached with the idea of coming to camp and then assessing their condition.

"I talked to both and they're extremely honest about their situation," Gretzky said. "I told them, come, work out and have fun. We feel as management and coaches that they bring so many intangibles. The pressure they take off other guys and the talent they bring is something you can't measure."


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