Canada's young hockey talent will be scary in 2010

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

Team Canada should win gold in Turin.

Team Canada must win gold in Vancouver.

Coming up short in the next two weeks would be a national disappointment.

Coming up short on home soil in 2010 would be a national disaster.

Can you imagine the devastation that would ripple from Squamish to St. John's if Canada was not able to capture the Olympic title at GM Place in four years? From coast to coast, there would not be enough crying towels to go around.

At least Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson has plenty to be optimistic about.

Understanding that the Olympic hockey tournament will be the jewel of the Vancouver games, Nicholson needs only to look at the core of five promising kids -- all under the age of 24 -- who will just be entering their primes at that time.

Sidney Crosby, 18, Eric Staal, 21, and Jason Spezza, 23, have their best offensive years ahead of them. On the blue line, Dion Phaneuf, 20, and Jay Bouwmeester, 22, represent the future of the Canadian defence.

It speaks volumes to their talents that all five were considered candidates to represent Canada in Italy this time around.

Bouwmeester is on the 23-man Canadian roster while Spezza and Staal are on the taxi squad. Crosby was a popular choice among fans, but did not get the call from Nicholson and Co.

Phaneuf, meanwhile, was edged out by Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Dan Boyle for a taxi squad berth this week, although he still might find himself there in the unlikely event that a foot injury to Chris Pronger keeps the Edmonton Oilers defenceman from heading to Italy. (See story, Page S17).

Just a rookie, Phaneuf took the news of his taxi squad exclusion like a man. He is now looking ahead, not back.

And should the opportunity arise to play for Canada in 2010 with those other aforementioned young guns, he would be thrilled.

"If that were to happen, it would be a dream come true," Phaneuf, the young rock 'em, sock 'em defenceman of the Calgary Flames, said in a phone interview. "Any time you can represent your country it's something special."

Media speculation concerning Phaneuf's chances for Turin raged for weeks leading up to Team Canada's decision the other day.

"I wasn't really getting tired of the questions," he said. "There was a lot of talk in the media about it. For me, just to be mentioned made me proud."

Flames coach Darryl Sutter is happy that Phaneuf did not make the taxi squad -- at least not yet.

"I think it would have great for him to go over, but only as an active player," Sutter said. "I don't think it would have done him any good to go there as a reserve.

"If he's going to go, he should play."

BITTER BOYLE?

Beleaguered Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky managed to take time out Wednesday to phone Boyle and inform him that he had made the taxi squad.

While Boyle was appreciative at the selection, he was not exactly jumping for joy.

"Obviously it's an honour any time you're asked by your country," Boyle said. "But I'm a little disappointed that it's only for the taxi squad. I would like to think I've played well enough to get a (regular) spot."

Many figured Boyle would get the call to the 23-man roster when Scott Niedermayer opted to skip the Olympics in order to have knee surgery. Boyle is a more offensively-skilled player than Bouwmeester and seemed to be the logical choice to replace the slick-skating Niedermayer.

But the choice was Bouwmeester, leaving Gretzky to inform Boyle of his taxi-squad status.

"(Gretzky) said I might not be too excited about being on the taxi-squad, but I was being invited," Boyle said.

"It really is mixed emotions for me. It's a little disappointing. I'm honoured, but at the same time, I feel like, 'Why not me for a spot on the team?' "

BOUWMEESTER'S BACK

Florida Panthers coach Jacques Martin lobbied hard for Bouwmeester, a player he sees perform almost every day.

As an assistant coach for Team Canada, Martin almost certainly had the ears of the Canadian brass.

Martin said the decision was based on Bouwmeester's strong skating ability, an aspect in which Niedermayer excelled; his international experience with Team Canada; and his improvement this season handling and moving the puck, especially in the past month. Bouwmeester has the most shots in the NHL (125) without a goal but has a six-game point streak (seven assists).

Boyle has 11 goals and 24 assists, but Team Canada officials felt Bouwmeester, "would be the guy that would help us most now," Martin said.

Bouwmeester had planned to watch the Olympics in his home town of Edmonton.

"It's very exciting," Bouwmeester said. "First off, you didn't really think you'd have the opportunity. Then, to realize you're going to get to go, it's a pretty big honour."

Originally one of the extra defencemen for Canada during the 2004 World Cup, Bouwmeester played on a regular basis after Ed Jovanovski was injured in the first game and Wade Redden in the second.

THE PAIN GAME

Team Canada forward Vinny Lecavalier said his "upper-body" injury is not 100%. But the Tampa Bay Lightning centre, who played Monday against the New York Islanders after missing the previous game, said the injury will not keep him from going to Turin.

"I want to be there playing in the Olympics," he said.

The Lightning is not revealing the injury for fear it will become a target for opponents. Lecavalier also declined to elaborate, but a hint might be that he did not take a faceoff in Tampa Bay's 3-2 overtime victory over the Isles, a game in which he scored the winning goal.

"I just wanted to keep it as simple as possible," he said. "But my legs felt really good."


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