Go hard or stay home

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:55 AM ET

Tiger Williams has some advice for Jarome Iginla concerning the upcoming World Championships:

Stay home.

Same goes for Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, Martin Brodeur and anyone else who has spent the last six to eight months at home watching poker on TV.

"It's not about you, it's about the team," said Williams at last night's Oldtimers game at the 'Dome.

"I can name two guys who can go all year without playing and then jump right into game shape -- Guy Lafleur and Wayne Gretzky. Name me another one. It'll take two months to get back in game shape. You're better off taking a team out of the AHL than to have players go that haven't been playing."

Weighing in on a debate that will rage on nationally over the next month, Williams's comments are in sharp contrast to those of his longtime friend and teammate Lanny McDonald. Like most Canadians, Mr. Moustache believes players have a duty to answer the call whether they've been playing in Europe or not.

"I don't think they're in a tough spot at all -- if you get asked to play for your country, you go," said the Hall of Famer who has helped Hockey Canada assemble national teams since the 2001 Worlds.

"Maybe they'll have slowed down a bit but they'll have a longer camp (in Calgary) and a few games to get back in playing shape. Sure they're disappointed things didn't work out but if they are the top players you'd have to think they know they're going to be asked to play."

Despite the fact today's players -- aside from maybe Brett Hull -- spend the entire off-season training, Williams says preparing to compete against the world's best can only be done by playing.

Lafleur agrees.

"You don't want to go out there and look stupid," said Lafleur, notorious for hanging up his skates from the time he kissed the Cup until training camp.

"Your timing is off a fraction of a second and you could go there and get badly injured. Then again, I'd be surprised if guys like Sakic and Iginla take a long time to get in shape -- they're in great shape already. Times change."

One man who knows all about the changing times is Kirk Muller, who bridged the gap between players like Lafleur who used camp to get in shape, and today's players who live at the gym. He thinks each idle player asked will make his decision based not on public pressure but on whether he can help the team win its third straight title.

"As a pro athlete, you can judge where you stand," said Muller, who signed with Dallas on Dec. 15, 2003 and played in Vancouver the next night.

"Today's guys know how to train so well, I don't think those guys will have a problem jumping into the pace.

"It's a short tournament."

At a time when many fans believe, right or wrong, that the NHL's labour impasse proves players no longer play for the love of the game, Hall of Fame left winger Steve Shutt realizes some players are in a real bind.

"It's a tough call but I'd be more inclined to invite guys who have been playing in Europe," said Shutt, who represented Canada at many international events, including the 1972 Summit Series.

"You just can't go in right away and be at the top of your game. What if you go over there and play bad? It's a tough spot to be in. It's not that they don't want to play -- they're not lazy -- there are a lot of other factors."

Hockey Canada is expected to announce its GM and coaching staff as early as today, sparking even more debate on who should and shouldn't be invited to play in Innsbruck starting Apr. 30.

"A lot of guys are going to be torn because everyone out there will want to play," said Williams.

"Intelligent decisions have to prevail here -- the opposite of what's been happening all year."


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