Second guessing Gretzky
GM chose experience over goals
STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
Archive: Wayne Gretzky adresses the media at Team Canada practice earlier this month. (Toronto Sun photo/Fred Thornhill)

TURIN -- Did Wayne Gretzky outsmart himself by ignoring this NHL season with his roster selections for Team Canada?

The evidence seems overwhelming in the wake of two apparent factors: 1) Team Canada is out of the hockey medals and never did click in any way as a team; 2) That the four remaining hockey countries relied heavily on their hottest NHL players to assemble their rosters.

The strong Russian team that eliminated Canada has 10 of its top 12 NHL scorers on its roster. The Czech team has all of its top nine point-getters here. Finland has nine of its top 10, the Swedes have 10 of 12.

The Gretzky Selection: Only three of the top 10 point-getters and three of the top 12 goal Canadian goal scorers were named to Team Canada.

Gretzky favoured experience and past performance in putting this version of Team Canada together, this theory being that the team would come together quicker because of the past. The opposite turned out to be true.

As executive director, Gretzky also relied heavily on the experience of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and the 2004 World Cup team but in retrospect that was a flawed strategy.

The Salt Lake City Games were a hockey lifetime ago.

The World Cup tournament is played almost exclusively on NHL-sized rinks, and scheduled to give Canada every conceivable break.

The fact Martin St. Louis was an MVP two seasons ago or Vinny Lecavalier once was the MVP of the World Cup, did little to enhance Team Canada here.

"They were missing some good players," Alexei Kovalev, the Russian captain, said. "I don't know why."

Even Pat Quinn, who favoured the experienced roster, said that Olympic hockey is becoming closer to NHL hockey than Canadians may be willing to admit.

"I saw Russians dumping the puck in," Quinn said. "When did you see that before? I saw the Russians play a one-four to try to keep the lead. I see the Finns and Swedes doing NHL things that years ago would never have happened."

This is NHL hockey -- with national pride and greater intensity and teams, not individuals, winning. That is why an Aki Berg can look effective playing for Finland and not for the Maple Leafs. That's why Viktor Kozlov can look semi-dominant here and only average in New Jersey. That's why a Niklas Hagman is forgettable in Dallas but a large factor for Finland.

"You put that jersey on some guys and it transforms (them) into more than they usually are," Quinn said. "It's like giving Superman a cape."

You see that with players such as Canada's Kris Draper and Shane Doan. But when you're playing the best scorers in the NHL and you've left the majority of yours at home, you end up short-handed. It is a lesson not to be forgotten for the future of hockey.