Olympics looming in lineup
By JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press
Wayne Gretzky didn't want to look too far into the future for the incontestable reason that the future, when you're in a single-knockout tournament, does not extend beyond the next game.
Canada will play the Czech Republic tomorrow in a semifinal for the right to face the winner of tonight's game between the U.S. and Finland next Tuesday. The future is now, you could say.
Still, the longer course of Canada's international hockey future is statistically evident in Canada's roster.
This young team contains the core of the next two Olympic Games teams.
Look at their ages.
Here's Jay Bouwmeester, 21, Dany Heatley, 23, Simon Gagne, Vincent Lecavalier, Robyn Regehr and Brad Richards, all 24, Joe Thornton, Brenden Morrow, Patrick Marleau, Scott Hannan, Roberto Luongo and Eric Brewer, all 25.
These are guys who will all be around 30 for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Some, such as Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan, both 27, could still be a force then.
Gretzky says the team wasn't selected on that basis but it could well work out nicely.
"We went with the best players and a lot of them are young," Canada's executive director said. "But yes, it's likely a lot of them will be on the 2010 team."
After the Gretzky-led 2002 team captured the Olympic gold medal at Salt Lake City, there was a new shelf in Canada's international trophy case. Gone are the days when Canada's best players weren't involved in the Olympics.
Plenty of things can happen in hockey and other winter sports over the next six years but there's little doubt the most important gold medal Canada could possibly win -- especially on its own turf -- would be in hockey.
First things first. Canada desperately wants to win tomorrow night and secure the World Cup next week. After that, the next big major is the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy.
The good news is the guys who'll be contesting the next two Olympic Games have been undergoing an apprenticeship unlike any other in elite Canadian hockey.
A look at the lineup and the respective ages speaks volumes.
The younger players have all said it dozens of times by now: practising and playing and just being with the ranking veteran stars of the game has been invaluable in their development. All of the younger players star with their club teams around the National Hockey League, but they've learned one single important lesson above all.
You never stop learning.
From Tampa Bay Lightning's Lecavalier, whose reputation has been that of an athlete prone to self-absorption, to the ever-upbeat and self-effacing Iginla, these younger players have learned that stardom doesn't beget more stardom naturally. Hard work does.
Iginla, the Calgary power forward, seemed as pleased at getting two goals against Slovakia Wednesday for his linemates as for himself.
"I still battle not being a little bit in awe," he said of playing with Mario Lemieux, 38, and Joe Sakic, 35.
In cases, development has been enforced on younger members of the team. When injuries to defencemen Rob Blake and Chris Pronger precluded their participation, in came players such as Regehr and Hannan.
Under normal circumstances they might not have seen a lot of ice but injuries to Ed Jovanovski and Wade Redden shot them into action, along with Bouwmeester, for experience in the heat of real battle.
In the end, a lot of young guys on the youngest Team Canada ever are being brought along by those who've been there before, athletes who know better than anyone what it takes to win these international affairs.
The torch is being handed over by Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic, Martin Brodeur, Adam Foote and the rest. Over the next decade it will be the core of the current crop of young players going for gold and taking new apprentices with them.