Repeat hardly seems in cards

TURIN -- And so it turns out that the great Wayne Gretzky gamble may have had nothing to do with Rick Tocchet after all.

The great gamble appears to be a Team Canada roster that is large and cumbersome and, to date, failing miserably in the hockey tournament at the Turin Winter Olympics.

The great gamble came in trusting those who were selected based on loyalty rather than current performance, on past international successes much more than current production.

The great gamble was to believe that the same team that played two years and one lost season ago in NHL-sized rinks in the World Cup easily could adapt to a different game on a larger ice surface.

It isn't happening.

It doesn't look like it's about to happen.

This is Gretzky's hand-picked Team Canada and it is wobbling. This is worse than an early defeat to Sweden in Salt Lake City in 2002. This is back-to-back shutouts, one game beaten by a hot goaltender and some lucky bounces, yesterday simply beaten in every conceivable way by Finland.

And right now, all that is keeping this team afloat is a forgiving format that allows for collapse while continuing to provide hope.

It is why Canada and the USA will be alive for at least one crossover playoff day. And after that, if this team doesn't find its way, this will be over quickly.

Any minute now it may be time for one of those Gretzky us-against-the-world speeches, simply to rally the troops.

Because that may be all this team has left.

It is that grim for a Team Canada unit that isn't getting better with each Olympic outing, that is having great difficulty adjusting to the wider ice, that lacks precision and crispness and any kind of on-ice chemistry.

"It's a different game on this ice," Sami Salo, the Vancouver Canucks defenceman, said after Finland's 2-0 victory yesterday. "It's a totally different game."

Translation: We were playing international hockey; Canada was playing hockey.

There are 2-0 games and there are 2-0 games. This was one of those that if it wasn't for Roberto Luongo playing superbly, it's a 5-0 ending. It was that bad.

"We kind of looked dopey," the rather honest Pat Quinn said.

They looked like the wrong mix of players on the wrong team at the wrong time. This isn't early anymore. This was Game 4 for Canada at the Olympics, the first against true world-class competition. The first two games were meaningless, if lethargic, wins. Then came losses against Switzerland and Finland.

LEFT BEHIND

Now it's two games without a goal. One goal in eight periods. Is this what happens when Eric Staal and Sidney Crosby and Jason Spezza, three of the top Canadian scorers in hockey, none of them FOGs -- Friends of Gretzky -- get left behind in favour of the old, familiar Canadian guard.

Is this what happens when Scott Niedermayer can't play and Ed Jovanovski is hurt and Chris Pronger looks like he can't move and each time you take a player away, you expose another one who fills that place?

This is a dysfunctional Olympic team with time running out to find its legs. There is one round-robin game left. Then there is a crossover playoff game. But if you can't execute a standard breakout today, who says you're going to be able to execute one tomorrow? If you can't run a power play now, how will that change in a day or two?

When Niklas Hagman and Niko Kapanen and Ville Peltonen make the Canadians look inept, where do you go?

"I still haven't seen anything that gives me any indication we're becoming a team," an exasperated Quinn said. "We have no continuity in five-man hockey. We're not playing much like a team right now."

And then with a touch of disdain he said, "It was river hockey out there."

It's also nervous time. As executive director, Wayne Gretzky played an old familiar hand in this tournament. Soon, he may be wishing he had gambled on some other cards.