Canada counting on old guard

In the end, Wayne Gretzky decided the time wasn't right for a changing of Team Canada's guard.

Instead, the executive director of Canada's entry at the Turin Olympics filled the 23-man roster with players who have gotten the job done for the country in the past. The emphasis on experience should come as a surprise to nobody.

This wasn't about who Team Canada could add to the roster, as Gretzky suggested a few months ago, it was about who they could subtract. That's why the incumbents were given every chance to make the team.

"The philosophy has not changed a whole from 2002 (in Salt Lake City) and 2004 (World Cup of Hockey)," said Team Canada coach Pat Quinn yesterday. "It is important to have people who have succeeded, to have continuity with our lineup,

"We like the chemistry and the experience of this team. I think you need to have people who have had success before. That's why they're part of this team."

But not a soul should argue that this isn't a gold-medal team. Gretzky built an Olympic champion in Salt Lake City by putting the right people in the right places and used a similar philosophy to the one we saw yesterday for the 2004 World Cup, which Canada also won.

FAMILIAR FORMULA

"I don't think that's a surprise that a lot of these players have played for Canada before," said Senators defenceman Wade Redden last night from Philadelphia. "A lot of these guys have had success with the country in the past and if you look at the way Team Canada has been built before, that's the way it has been."

Sure, eyebrows were raised about Canada's decision to put Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Smyth and Colorado Avalanche blueliner Adam Foote on the regular roster, ahead of guys like Carolina's Eric Staal, Ottawa's Jason Spezza and Calgary's Dion Phaneuf. But there won't be much screaming.

Gretzky is a loyal man. He isn't just going to shove players aside who have done it for Canada before. That's why Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman were allowed to bow out gracefully because if they wanted to play in Turin, spots on the roster would have been saved for them.

While it's true players like Rob Blake, Shane Doan and Foote have struggled this season, the Team Canada staff feels it has the right mix to handle an intense, short tournament. It'll take eight games in 12 days to win gold.

"A lot of these guys were chosen because they're not going to panic or under-perform in tough situations because we've seen them a number of times and we know they can help us," said Team Canada assistant executive director Kevin Lowe. "I know a lot of people are concerned because some of these guys aren't having great NHL years, but we feel in a tournament like this, we need to have this kind of experience."

GOALTENDING STRONG

The strength of this team is the goaltending. New Jersey's Martin Brodeur has already been anointed as the No. 1, but Dallas' Marty Turco and Florida's Roberto Luongo will be waiting in the wings if needed.

"We're impressed with all of our goalies," said Lowe. "We like the way these guys have performed in the past and we feel they all bring different elements to the table because they all have different strengths and styles."

Turco has had a standout season so far, while Luongo stepped up during the World Cup for an injured Brodeur. Luongo and Turco will both push the Devils star.

"We're going to have a good competition and that's what you want," said Brodeur.

Perhaps, the saving grace was the three-man taxi squad, which can only be used if there are major injuries. Staal, Spezza and Maple Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe make up that unit.

"We saw top performances by all three. We didn't necessarily see these guys on the team at all when we started," said Quinn. "Staal and Spezza have really lit it up. We just felt there was nobody we wanted to take out. We felt these kids have really played well and, God forbid anybody gets injured, we feel these guys can step in for us to get the job done."