Canada's future in gold hands

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Minutes after clearing the tinny mug through customs, Matthew Lombardi and Dion Phaneuf emerged from Calgary airport's international gate carrying the world championship trophy.

With one handle in each player's hand, and reserve player Stacy Roest in tow, they stopped amidst a smattering of applause for photos.

Unfamiliar with the trophy only a European grows up dreaming of hoisting, the tired trio was oblivious to the fact it was actually being held backwards.

When you consider just how new and unexpected the whole scenario was for the two Flames youngsters, the gaffe was completely understandable.

Especially considering they had just followed an evening of celebration with an eight-hour flight that had them at the centre of attention.

"People on the flight didn't know what the world championship trophy was but as soon as they announced it on the plane everyone wanted to have their picture taken with it," said Hockey Canada prez Bob Nicholson.

"It was a long but special day for the boys."

The first of many, one would think, for a crew few paid much attention to three weeks earlier. Much like the trophy they came home with, many Canadians were largely unfamiliar with the cast assembled by Steve Yzerman. But given the youth, speed, talent and heart put on display in Russia that should change soon.

That was a team full of future Olympians. Of the forwards alone Eric and Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews and even Mike Cammalleri could join Shane Doan and Rick Nash as early as 2010.

"That defence -- everyone is going to know that defence -- they'll see them a few more times," smiled Nicholson of a crew highlighted by Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis, Barret Jackman and Phaneuf.

"Some of those players are going to be there at 2010. We saw that through '98 and '02 -- guys jumping up and getting noticed."

Andy Murray's history with Hockey Canada and near-perfect record at the worlds has to make him the leading candidate to coach the team.

Yzerman's indoctrination into hockey management went as well as possible as he proved savvy enough to find the right mix of unheralded role players who shone at the most opportune of times. Colby Armstrong comes to mind, as does Finnish league defenceman Cory Murphy.

"Before I left I talked to Steve Yzerman and that was cool just getting a call from him -- there was never any thought of not going," said Lombardi, who capped off a breakthrough season by leading Canada with six goals and 12 points between Doan and Nash.

"It was a pretty special group of guys we had and I got the opportunity to play with two amazing players -- they kind of made it happen."

The most trivial of political uproars couldn't even stop the team from being Canada's first entrant to go 9-0.

"I don't think you can handle it any better than Shane did. He's a first-class guy and world-class leader and we looked up to him," said Lombardi.

While Lombardi is still a longshot to garner Olympic consideration in three years, this tourney greatly enhanced his progression.

"You learn a lot when you go to those tournaments and you kind of get a different view on how to play the game," said Lombardi.

"You definitely want to build on your previous season and obviously I feel pretty good with the way things went. I'm excited about next year."

Phaneuf even smiled yesterday.

Like Team Canada's sweep, few saw it coming.


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