Canada scrambles to name squad

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

It was close.

"O Canada" beat out "No, Canada."

But it went to overtime.

Steve Tambellini took forever to pick Team Canada, finally announcing 22 players two days before opening camp in Calgary.

"I didn't feel any pressure to get things done. At the end of the day I wanted to be able to tell Bob Nicholson and Hockey Canada that these were the best players ready to play. I'm excited about these guys. It's a strong group. It's a pumped group."

THE SHALLOW END

Yes, but ...

When Tambellini signed on to head up Team Canada's quest to win a third consecutive IIHF World Hockey Championship, he figured the talent pool would be deep. In the end, he had to pick a few from the shallow end.

"We could have 2 1/2 teams and argue which team would beat the other," he said when he began to assemble the squad for coach Marc Habscheid - a team he figured he'd have picked about two weeks ago.

Instead, there were two teams: the players who said yes and the players who said no. And you could argue which one would beat the other - the ones going to Austria or the ones staying home.

Saying no were Jarome Iginla, Scott Niedermayer, Rob Blake, Joe Sakic, Martin St. Louis, Chris Pronger, Eric Brewer, etc. Oldie goldies like Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman decided they may have hurt more than they would have helped. Injured players Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier had no choice. But they're the headliners of one hell of a team we're leaving at home.

"My focus here is not to speak about whoever is not on the roster," said Tambellini yesterday.

"They have their reasons, they made their decisions. My view is there are only so many times you get a chance to play on a team like this. It's like Wayne Gretzky once said when asked why he always said yes when he was asked to play. He said, quick and clear: 'One day they won't ask me.' "

Seven won gold for Canada last year at the world championships in Prague.

Three players - Ryan Smyth, Dany Heatley and Roberto Luongo - will get a chance to win three consecutive IIHF World Hockey Championship gold medals for Canada.

Nineteen of the 22 players have represented Canada internationally.

Fifteen players - Martin Brodeur, Shane Doan, Kris Draper, Simon Gagne, Dany Heatley, Ed Jovanovski, Luongo, Kirk Maltby, Patrick Marleau, Brenden Morrow, Brendan Morrison, Wade Redden, Robyn Regehr, Smyth and Joe Thornton - are return members from the Team Canada that won gold in the World Cup back at the start of this hockey season, which never got started.

It's maybe not the dream team Tambellini thought about. But it's still the best team Canada has ever taken to the IIHF World Championships in Hockey. And every last one of them, he insists, are players who want to wear the sweater and play for their country.

Tambellini stressed "we know each is honoured and wants to represent Canada with the passion to go for our third-straight gold medal and to give back our game across the country.

THEY ARE EXCITED

"This is special to each one. I know they're excited. I know they're ready to get going quickly. They're a strong group of players and this is not something unfamiliar to them."

Tambellini says he hopes Canada decides to cheer for them, for that reason if no other.

These players have felt big-time backlash from fans who stayed away from their charity events and spewed most of their lockout anger and frustrations in their direction.

"The one thing we have to remember here is these are Canada's best players who are not going over to play for their respective club teams, but are going to play for their country. We have to remember that.

"They are, like any other year at the world championships, putting themselves in a place where they can compete for their country. That is something that should be respected. It's important. It's something that this country cares a great deal about.

"It's a good thing."


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