Olympic dreams at stake today

The waiting and the anxiety are almost over for Jason Spezza.

Not to mention the nationwide debate.

Team Canada for the 2006 Turin Olympics will be unveiled at a press conference today in Vancouver (5 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). And Spezza, like many across the nation, will be paying attention with great interest.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about it a bit," Spezza told reporters in Montreal yesterday.

The final decisions made by executive director Wayne Gretzky will be made public a few hours after one last conference call between Team Canada management.

It should be noted there is a chance the announcement could be delayed out of respect for Gretzky, who is dealing with the loss of his mother Phyllis to cancer Monday night.

"I'm pretty sure it will be announced (today), but I know they want to do what's right and what's best for (Gretzky)," Team Canada associate coach Jacques Martin said yesterday from Fort Lauderdale. "I'm giving you an honest answer because I don't know."

GRETZKY ABSENT

But there is a belief Gretzky would want Team Canada officials to go ahead with the announcement of the 23-man roster for Turin. It's believed Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson along with assistant GMs Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini will handle the naming of the team.

However, there is still work to be done today to finalize the roster. That's partially because Team Canada officials wanted to take one more look at the squad before making their choices and because they didn't want the lineup leaking to the media.

Gretzky, Lowe, Tambellini, Nicholson and the coaching staff of Pat Quinn, Ken Hitchcock, Wayne Fleming, Marc Habscheid and Martin held a long meeting Monday morning to essentially put together the team.

Martin admitted the process has been much more difficult than in 2002.

"In 2002, we had to name eight players early and that was pretty easy because I think everybody we named was pretty well the captain of their hockey team. It wasn't like that this time around," said Martin.

"This year, we're working with a different mix of players. We've got guys who were with us in 2002 and guys who performed well for us at the World Cup in 2004. The good news is there are lots of great players in Canada and even if we have injuries before the tournament, we're going to have guys who are there for us and ready to step in.

"All you have to do is look at the World Cup. We didn't have guys like Rob Blake and Chris Pronger, but we had players who were able to step in to get the job done for us to help us win."

SAKIC TO GET 'C'

Martin said decisions by Detroit's Steve Yzerman and Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux not to attend the Olympics will change the look of the team. It's expected Lowe or Tambellini will name Colorado centre Joe Sakic as the captain during the news conference.

"The good thing is we've got plenty of leadership in this country with guys like Sakic," said Martin. "He's been there before and he knows what it takes to get the job done.

"There are other players who have been at this level before and they love to have the chance to compete for Canada."

Martin said youngsters like Spezza, Carolina's Eric Staal and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby all have a shot. If they aren't named to the regular roster, they will all be strong candidates to be part of the three-man taxi squad each country can take to Turin as injury replacements. Lowe and Senators GM John Muckler spoke yesterday to discuss the impact Spezza has made in Ottawa this season.

"They've been excellent in the first half of the season," said Martin.

"(Spezza) is right there and so is Staal. That's the good thing about Canada, we've got a real good mix of players."

OUR TEAM CANADA

Sun hockey writer Bruce Garrioch predicts Team Canada's roster:

Goalies: Martin Brodeur (New Jersey), Roberto Luongo (Florida), Marty Turco (Dallas).

Defence: Rob Blake (Colorado), Scott Niedermayer (Anaheim), Chris Pronger (Edmonton), Wade Redden (Ottawa), Adam Foote (Columbus), Ed Jovanoski (Vancouver), Robin Reghr (Calgary)..

Forwards: Joe Sakic (Colorado), Joe Thornton (San Jose), Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa), Martin St. Louis (Tampa), Jarome Iginla (Calgary), Dany Heatley (Ottawa), Brad Richards (Tampa), Kris Draper (Detroit), Rick Nash (Columbus), Todd Bertuzzi (Vancouver), Jason Spezza (Ottawa), Ryan Smyth (Edmonton), Eric Staal (Carolina).