New Captain Canuck?

Canadian team organizers for the 2005 world championships are doing everything they can to convince...

Canadian team organizers for the 2005 world championships are doing everything they can to convince Steve Yzerman to answer the call. (Ottawa Sun/Jason Kryk)

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

For the 2002 Olympic Team Canada, there was no doubt who would be captain. Mario Lemieux.

For the 2004 World Cup team, it was the same story.

But for the 2005 world championship team, there will be no Lemieux. Even though he tried his best to answer the call, he has decided that after six months of hockey inactivity, his 39-year-old body can't get ready in time.

So who will be the captain this time? If the organizers have their way, it will be Steve Yzerman. The last survivor of the old guard.

At the 2002 Olympics, with the gold medal on the line and Canada holding a 3-2 lead over the United States at the second intermission, four Canadian players spoke to the assembled troops to rally them to the cause.

They were Lemieux, Joe Sakic, Al MacInnis and Yzerman.

MacInnis finished his career with an eye injury. Lemieux isn't ready to play. Neither is Sakic.

As a result, the organizers are doing everything they can to convince Yzerman to answer the call.

Knowing Yzerman, he'll give it his best shot. He missed the World Cup because he was recuperating from a shattered orbital bone, but even on that occasion, he didn't rule out participation until he was absolutely sure he couldn't do it.

When he broke into the NHL, Yzerman was a brilliant offensive player. But when he started to lose a step, as everyone does, he didn't let the slide into oblivion continue. He made himself into the best two-way player in the game and, with the possible exception of Mark Messier, the best leader.

This is the reason that the organizers want him so badly. They'll have plenty of quality players on this team, with at least a dozen members of the victorious World Cup squad returning. But even the best players need a forceful leader, someone who can point out what needs to be done and can lead by example. And more than anyone in hockey today, Yzerman is that man.

On the goal that salted away the Olympic gold medal -- the one scored by Jarome Iginla to make the score 4-2 -- it was Yzerman who stepped around a defender at the blue line, then laid a perfect pass on to to Iginla's tape for the one-timer that beat Mike Richter.

The organizers hope to have Yzerman's decision this week and according to reports, he's leaning toward involvement. His only concern is the one that might be expected. While he's fully willing to make the commitment, he wants to be sure he can make a worthwhile contribution to the cause.

When the team is announced later this week, there will be no shortage of players to act as Yzerman's support staff.

Martin Brodeur will be the starting goalie, with Roberto Luongo as one of the backups. Jose Theodore, who has been playing in Europe and is therefore in far better game shape than the other two at the moment, also has been invited and is weighing his decision.

On defence, Team Canada will have Robyn Regehr, Scott Hannan, Wade Redden and Ed Jovanovski, all of whom played well in the World Cup.

Up front, Dany Heatley, Ryan Smyth, Shane Doan, Kris Draper, Joe Thornton and Simon Gagne likely are to be named.

Brad Richards has an abdominal problem and will play if possible, but at the moment, his participation is a tossup. Daniel Briere, Brendan Morrison, Chris Phillips and Sheldon Souray, all of whom have been playing well in Europe are other likely candidates.

Also, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the organizers, who are firm believers in passing the torch, will bring in some junior players like Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf, should their junior commitments have been fulfilled.

Team Canada would not be in dire straits if it doesn't have Yzerman. But his presence can only make it better.


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