Blue-line injuries have Team Canada on prowl

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:32 AM ET

As Team Canada's blue line quickly transforms into Club Chaos, Dan Boyle and Jay Bouwmeester are playing the waiting game.

With injury concerns lingering over Ed Jovanovski, Scott Niedermayer and Bryan McCabe, either Boyle or Bouwmeester may get the last minute call to represent their country in Turin.

The clock is ticking, and Team Canada officials know it. Well aware that Canada's opening game is less than three weeks away, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson, Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky and the rest of the management and coaching staff will hold a conference call next week to update the injury situation.

Truth be told, Boyle was a bit surprised when informed that he was a leading candidate to be brought in if needed. A member of the defending Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning, he figured he often slips under the radar because he has played down in Florida for his entire career.

"I don't know if that's why I get overlooked sometimes, but it very well might be," Boyle said in a phone interview from Tampa. "And the truth of the matter is, I can't pick myself. It's up to others to do that."

Boyle, who previously played for the Florida Panthers, did make a name for himself in the 2004 playoffs, quarterbacking Tampa's power play to the title.

"I think (Team Canada officials) know what I can do," Boyle said. "I played at the world championship last spring and I thought I did pretty well."

Bouwmeester has represent Canada numerous times at the worlds.

"I haven't talked to anyone," the Panthers defenceman said. "There is a little bit of talk but I haven't heard anything."

San Jose Sharks' Scott Hannan and Calgary Flames rookie Dion Phaneuf will also be considered.

Facing possible surgery on his banged-up right knee, Niedermayer must decide whether to undergo the procedure during the Olympic break and finish the season with Anaheim, or try to play through it in Turin before going under the knife at the end of the season.

"If I can't go, they'll have work to do. Another player will need to go and they need to get organized," Niedermayer told The Canadian Press yesterday.

Jovanovski aggravated a groin injury this week and continues to be evaluated by doctors in Vancouver.

McCabe, a member of the taxi squad, hopes that his groin injury has healed enough in order to rejoin the Maple Leafs next week.

FOOTE IN THE DOOR

With so much still up in the air heading into Turin, at least Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Adam Foote is giving the Team Canada brass something to smile about.

Earlier this month, Foote was a huge question mark for Canadian officials. A groin/hip ailment had caused him to miss 13 of 16 games, leaving Nicholson and Co., wondering if he would be ready for the Olympics.

But Foote is back and has started chewing up large chunks of ice time, including 26:33 in the Jackets' 6-5 victory over the Canucks on Tuesday. The Whitby native highlighted his solid performance by laying out Markus Naslund in the third period.

"I didn't feel good the first few games, but now I do," Foote said.

Those words are music to Nicholson's ears, given the uncertainty on the Canadian blue line,

OLYMPIC GOALIES

The 1-0 overtime victory by Boyle's Lightning over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday may well have been a preview of the Canada-U.S. goaltending matchup that awaits in Turin.

Having reportedly agreed in principle to a six-year, $31.2- million US contract extension with the Devils, Martin Brodeur is peaking just in time to lead Canada at the Olympics. Since dropping a 6-3 decision to the Maple Leafs on New Year's Eve, Brodeur had backstopped the Devils to 10 victories in January entering play last night.

No surprise there, given his past track record.

The real intrigue rests between the pipes of the American net, where both Robert Esche and Rick DiPietro have struggled with both injuries and poor performances.

That may have opened up the door for John Grahame of the Lightning, who easily is playing the best hockey of the three U.S. goaltenders.

Grahame's whitewash of the Devils -- his third shutout in five games -- extended his shutout streak to 166 minutes, 26 seconds -- just 13:39 off the club record established by former Maple Leaf Darren Puppa during the 1995-96 season.

"It's nice to know you can go through it," Grahame said, referring to criticism fired his way earlier in the season. "I never doubted myself."

Because of the improved play of Grahame and Sean Burke, rumours that the Lightning were actively in the market for a goalie have died down.

As for the Olympic team, keep in mind that the Americans could bring in Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres if Esche or DiPietro are physically unable to perform.

Bad break

Joe Nieuwendyk can sympathize with Florida teammate Gary Roberts, who recently suffered the first serious knee injury of his career.

"I can give him lots of advice," said Nieuwendyk, who could probably pen a medical journal on the subject after all of he procedures that have been conducted on his own knees.

The spraining of the medial collateral ligament by Roberts will keep him out of the Panthers lineup until after the upcoming Olympic break.


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