Picture imperfect

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

Wayne Gretzky won't be there to slide into that on-ice team picture if Team Canada wins the IIHF World Hockey Championships.

But maybe they should save a space for him like the pilots do with an empty spot in their formation for those missing in action.

For the first time in his career, Gretzky has said no to Canada.

As reported in the Edmonton Sun last week, Gretzky decided not to head up the management team for the April 30-May 15 event in Innsbruck and Vienna, Austria.

The Great One won't be selecting the team. He won't be attending training camp in Calgary. He won't be taking it to Halifax, Quebec City, Riga and Prague before the event. And he won't be there when the tournament begins.

But everybody involved says in many ways it'll still be his team.

"You're going to see Wayne's fingerprints on this team," said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson.

Having made up his mind to say no a week earlier, Gretzky tossed and turned on it for another week at the request of Hockey Canada and came to the same conclusion.

"I'm disappointed that I can't be involved with Team Canada at this year's world championship due to the personal situation surrounding my mother's illness," Gretzky, whose mother is battling cancer, said in a statement.

"I would not be able to put in the 100% that is needed for Hockey Canada."

Edmonton Oilers' GM Kevin Lowe has also, as expected, elected not be a member of the management team.

UNCOMFORTABLE

"As the year unfolded I just felt uncomfortable about everything," said Lowe.

"I just didn't think it was the right year to be involved," added Lowe of the lockout and the strained relationships between players and management.

The Oilers GM said it was definitely a go for Gretzky before he and Mario Lemieux were ambushed by the players to go to New York for the false alarm attempt to save the season two days after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had cancelled it.

"Gretz was definitely in before then. Before New York, he was doing it.

"I had my concerns and voiced my concerns," said Lowe, who probably would have said yes to Gretzky if he'd been asked but was pretty much no go in terms of discussion throughout the time leading up to the decision.

"Wayne will probably say none of it. But he was really pissed off after that New York business," said Lowe.

The Oilers GM doesn't think it played much of a part in Gretzky's decision in the end. Lowe said he believes it came down to Gretzky's mother and little else.

He said he believes the delay after Gretzky seemed to have his mind made up a week ago to say no, was Hockey Canada attempting to find a way where Gretzky could head the project without having to travel.

The third member of the triumvirate that helped Canada win gold medals at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games and last fall's World Cup of Hockey, Steve Tambellini of the Vancouver Canucks, again as reported in the Sun, will head up the attempt for Canada to three-peat for the first time since '50-'51-'51.

Tambellini, the assistant GM of the Canucks, will be assisted by the GM of the Detroit Red Wings. Ken Holland has agreed to assume the role. It was Holland's assistant GM, Jim Nill, who headed Team Canada to last year's world championship.

"Steve will do a wonderful job," said Gretzky.

Tambellini headed up the 2003 team that won the first of what they hope will be Canada's third three-in-a-row (the other was in the 1930s). Tambellini said Gretzky's presence will be everywhere with this project and he's always just a cellphone call away.

ONE VOICE

"Wayne still, indirectly, is part of the overall picture of this group. This group, these last few years, has marched with one voice and no ego. That's the way it's going to continue to be."

Nicholson said Hockey Canada gave Gretzky all the time they could give him.

"It was a very difficult decision for Wayne. I talked to Wayne numerous times. It's the right decision for Wayne. Family should come first."

In the end, should Canada also come first, they should save that space for him in the team picture.


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