99 wants time to pick team

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- It will be some months yet before Canadians know the make-up of the hockey team that will represent them at the 2006 Olympics in Italy.

If Wayne Gretzky has his way, they won't even find out this year.

It's one of the ironic advantages created by the ongoing dispute over the international agreement that governs the hockey world.

At the moment, the Russians are refusing to sign (the Czechs finally signed yesterday), and as a result, all those picayune rules imposed by the International Olympic Committee can receive the treatment they deserve. They can be ignored.

For the 2002 Olympics, for example, eight players had to be named to the team a year before the Olympics. Then the rest had to be named by mid-December.

This time, Gretzky would like to name the entire team in mid-January, but he has to win over the National Hockey League and the NHL Players' Association. They'd like a mid-December date, as was the case for the bulk of the team in 2001.

But Gretzky's point is that with so many qualified players being in the running for positions, and with so many of them coming back rusty after a year off, the longer they have to prove themselves the more likely it is that Canada will send the best team possible.

"I'm hoping sort of mid-January," Gretzky said. "Somewhere around Jan. 19 or Jan. 20 would be the perfect time for us. The NHL and the PA would prefer some time (around) Dec. 18-23, so we're trying to find some middle ground here.

"I understand their philosophy. Everybody wants to know where they're going to be in February."

The players can adjust to their status quickly, Gretzky said, but once a player is named to Team Canada, "moms and dads want to go, and wives and kids. I understand that, so we're just trying to work through it together so we can all say, 'Okay, that's a good time.'

"The more games the players can get to play, the more chance guys have to make the team."

An NHL player could play 15 games between the date the league wants and the date Gretzky proposes. This year, more than most, those 15 games could be extremely revealing.

And there's the matter of avoiding unnecessary aggravation.

"I don't want to get onto a situation like we had with in '02," Gretzky said, "where we had to pick the team so early and then there's this huge controversy about so-and-so should have been on the team. We want to stay away from that as much as we can."


Videos

Photos