U.S. rocking to the oldies
By CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun
MONTREAL -- Call it a story of the old man and the "C."
Chris Chelios, 42, remembered yesterday the last time he was named a captain here.
"Yeah, and the first time didn't last too long," he said wryly after being named the captain of Team USA for the World Cup, which gets under way for the Americans and Canadians tonight at the Bell Centre.
Chelios was named a co-captain of the Montreal Canadiens in 1989-90, along with Guy Carbonneau. It lasted just two seasons before he was traded at the 1991 draft to the Chicago Blackhawks for Denis Savard.
"I've been used to not being a captain in Detroit with Steve Yzerman there. It takes a toll on you, being captain. Here in Montreal, there's a burden that goes with it. I took it to heart and put a lot of pressure on myself.
"But that won't be a problem in this tournament," said Chelios. "This room runs itself."
Good point. Chelios and his gang have been running together for a while now, since winning the first World Cup in 1996 over Canada right here at the then-new Molson Centre.
Chelios was also the captain of the American entry in the 1998 and 2002 Olympic Games and as a member of the 1996 World Cup-winning team, helped this generation of American hockey players realize they could beat Canada and be the best in the world.
"We've been with these guys a long time, since beating Canada here, which gave us a big boost all over USA Hockey," said Chelios. "Look at the last few years what our junior team has done at the world championships (they won it last year, beating Canada). We feel like we can compete at any level. I think it shows the way the U.S. has improved over the years, how much they really appreciate and have a passion for the game, which wasn't the case 20 years ago until maybe the 1980 Olympic team. I think we might not have had the exact same passion as the Canadians, but we have built some confidence over the last eight or nine years."
If the Americans have an advantage in this tournament it is they have the same nucleus of players going for them now as when they won the last World Cup here in 1996.
Bringing a group together on a fast track is being emphasized by all eight countries in this tournament and the presence of 11 holdovers from the 1996 World Cup certainly helps the Americans in that regard (Canada, by comparison, has four players who played in '96).
At an average age of 31, the Americans are the oldest team in the tournament.
"You call it age. I call it experience," said Chelios. "Age is not a factor. Experience is going to help us a lot. You're talking to the wrong guy if you think we're old. There was the same question in Detroit and we made ourselves older by going out and signing Luc (Robitaille), (Brett) Hull and (Dominik) Hasek and silenced everybody who had something to say about the age thing. We don't feel it at all."
U.S. defenceman Eric Weinrich, one of the newcomers at age 37, shook off the old tag, too.
"You look at the older guys on this team and they are still premier guys in the league. Chelios is playing as well as anybody in the league. To me, I can't see it as a problem at all for our team. It's just something to talk about and make an issue."
Chelios learned about being a captain from some of the best.
"There's a lot of good memories back here (in Montreal) ... to come into the NHL in Montreal, I was very fortunate to learn from the greatest players that ever played, Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson. I would not be the same player if it wasn't for that. I was just very fortunate, like going to school at Harvard. That's the way I look at it and really learning what the game is all about in Canada."
Chelios was asked yesterday how it felt for him on the eve of playing for might be his last time wearing the Team USA sweater.
"I've been saying that for eight years now, it's going to be my last ... "
He was interrupted by coach Ron Wilson.
"You said that in '96, 'this will be it.' "
"I'd love to go to Italy in two years (for the Olympic Winter Games), too," said Chelios.
What's another two years?