Immediate chemistry a factor

We take you now to yesterday morning's final conference call, when Team Canada brass had to make some agonizing decisions about who'd represent this country at February's Winter Olympics.

The majority of the roster was set. The easy choices had been made.

These last few, though, were another matter, entirely.

So when Olympic team boss Wayne Gretzky hooked up with right-hand man Kevin Lowe, director of player personnel Steve Tambellini, head coach Pat Quinn, Quinn's assistant coaches and other Hockey Canada officials, there was no time for small talk.

"It was all business," Winnipeg native Wayne Fleming, one of Quinn's assistants, was saying from his home in Philadelphia yesterday. "Usually there's a bit of a cordial period. There wasn't much chit-chat in this one. We knew we had to get down to business."

It was the fourth conference call this group held in the last two weeks -- about three more than they'd planned on.

Fleming says three or four positions were still up for grabs during yesterday's final hours.

He wouldn't say which ones, but it probably came down to choices between youthful skill and dependable experience.

No doubt there was lobbying for young players like Jason Spezza and Eric Staal. Vets Ryan Smyth and Kris Draper, too.

PRESENTED THOUGHTS

"A respectful conversation," is how Fleming described that final session. "That's what's made this formula work. Everybody went around the table and presented their thoughts as to why they thought particular people would fit. Then there was some general discussion. At the end of it, the general discussion was pretty close."

Looking at the final roster -- 20 of the 23 players were either on the 2002 Olympic team or the 2004 World Cup team -- it's clear which way they went.

The three players who weren't part of those events -- Rick Nash, Todd Bertuzzi and goalie Marty Turco -- have all played at the World Championship.

This, literally, is a coach's dream team.

"There's immediate team chemistry there," Fleming said. "All these players within the last two to four years have gotten to know each other personally. It also, from a coaching perspective, allows us to know exactly what they bring to the table."

Not just their statistics, either. In many cases, this was about the kind of team players they are. And about how quickly they'd adapt to Team Canada's style.

As Fleming says, they'll have "one skate in Toronto and one skate in Italy" when they arrive.

NOT A LOT OF TIME

"And then, boom, we're right into it," he said. "So there's not a lot of time for actual team building, or even systems development. But we're fortunate we've got such a strong nucleus from the last two competitions."

Going with veterans was also about filling the leadership gap left by former Olympians Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux.

"You look at any championship teams, and they've always had tremendous leadership," Fleming said. "We have that."

As for the inclusion of Bertuzzi, Fleming says that wasn't even a debate.

"Six-foot-3, 245 (pounds). Has the skills, skating, passing and shooting, of somebody that's 6-0, 195 pounds. He's a dominant force and he's played well this year. There was no reason not to put him on at all."

Fleming called the three-person taxi-squad "a god-send," because it allows Canada to assimilate youngsters like Spezza and Staal into the mix.

But this team is more about the past than the future.

Fleming earned gold medals at the '02 Games and the World Cup with these same players, so he knows exactly what he's getting.

"You're going to have to shoot 'em to keep 'em off the ice," he said. "When they set foot in Italy, there will be no doubt what these guys are coming to do."

Maybe the choices weren't that hard, after all.