Gretzky leads quest for Cup
By BRUCE GARRIOCH, Ottawa Sun
Wayne Gretzky - Team Canada Executive Director Wayne Gretzky applauds his team after they defeated the United States 5-2 in the gold medal game at the Winter Olympics in West Valley City, Utah, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2002. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)
It was a great move by the Great One. With loads of pressure on Canada's men's hockey team at the 2002 Winter Olympics, Wayne Gretzky stepped up and said everyone else in the hockey world "hated" Canada. He went on to say everyone else wanted Canada to lose.
No wonder the players responded with such heart, going on to win the gold medal.
So it's no surprise after leading the country to its first gold medal in 50 years, Gretzky is back to try to bring a World Cup to Canada with training camp set to open Friday in Ottawa.
Gretzky quickly said yes when asked by Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson to be executive director of the Canadian team. All Gretzky asked for was the chance to work with Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini again.
"I couldn't say no to this opportunity," Gretzky told the Sun in a pre-camp telephone interview from his Los Angeles home. "I believe that anytime you get the chance to do anything that's involved with Team Canada -- whether it's being a player or being in management -- you can't say no."
"I didn't really have any second thoughts when it came to asking Wayne Gretzky to do this again," Nicholson said from his Calgary office. "I just look at the job that he did in Salt Lake City and the tremendous pressure that was on us there. He was excellent. He stepped up when the country needed him. I think about his rant when things weren't going well early in the tournament. Instead of allowing pressure to be applied to the players, he stepped up and put all the pressure on himself. The timing of that was just perfect."
Gold was also the reason the coaching staff was brought back for another shot. Toronto's Pat Quinn will be back behind the bench with assistants Jacques Martin (Florida), Ken Hitchcock (Philadelphia) and Wayne Fleming (Philadelphia).
There was a school of thought that Canada might make a change for the World Cup. There was a belief Colorado coach Joel Quenneville might get a chance. Gretzky says he liked the Salt Lake staff.
"(Quinn), (Martin), (Hitchcock) and (Fleming) all bring different elements to the table and I really liked the mix that we had with this staff in Salt Lake City," said Gretzky. "These guys worked so well together and they really complemented each other.
"I'm a big believer in giving people another chance (and) I felt these guys deserved another chance to win for Canada. You look at these guys and they're such big competitors with Toronto, Ottawa and Philly. But when they walked through that door in Salt Lake they put everything aside and got the job done.
"That's one of the messages we talked about with the players in Salt Lake. We told them to check their egos at the door and that's what these guys did as a staff. We discussed everything as a group and we didn't do anything if anybody wasn't on board with the decision. It's a strong group."
Still, there were changes to the roster. Of the 26 players on the Canadian roster, only 11 won gold in Salt Lake. Originally, 14 members of the 2002 team were named to Canada, but Steve Yzerman, Rob Blake and Ed Belfour pulled out with injuries.
While Pittsburgh captain Mario Lemieux and Colorado captain Joe Sakic will be back, there are new faces like Boston's Joe Thornton, Tampa's Vincent Lecavalier, Shane Doan of Phoenix, Ottawa's Wade Redden and Detroit's Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby.
"There's no question this team is younger than the group we had in Salt Lake," said Gretzky. "The game is so much different now and you need to have people with speed. We have filled those needs with young players like Jarome Iginla, Doan, Lecavalier and (Brad) Richards. Then we've got guys like Maltby and Draper, who we feel are going to be able to play roles for us."
Now that all the pieces are in place, Gretzky is looking forward to the challenge.
"This is going to be another big challenge," said Gretzky. "This is a different challenge than the Olympics. I like to tell everybody that we've never won a World Cup and that's the challenge we have to accept. There's always going to be pressure because Canadians expect their teams to be successful. That's the same at every level."