Age was not the problem, Howe maintains
GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

Lower the boom!

Dump Wayne Gretzky!

Drop Pat Quinn!

Euthanize players over 25!

Such and similar foolish thoughts were regurgitated by yahoos on radio call-in shows, or were fired off in e-mails following Canada's 2-0 quarter-final loss to Russia at the Turin Olympics.

Hogwash! Particularly the age factor. The yahoos have forgotten that when Team Canada -- with Gretzky as executive director and Quinn as coach -- won the gold medal at Salt Lake City four years ago, the inspirations of the team were Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman. They were not under 25, but had talent and desire.

However, I don't want to vent my anger. After all, I'm only a journalist who has been observing hockey for more than half a century. Still, I never played in the NHL or the Olympic Games, so I decided to talk to two players who did.

Where can one find a better qualified man to discuss shinny issues than Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe?

The big right winger who starred for the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL and Hartford of the WHA, said the Canadian and U.S. teams didn't have enough preparatory time.

"When I played in Detroit on a line with Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay, we got used to each other, but it took time," Detroit's former great No. 9 said. "And the more we played together the better we knew where each of us was on the ice.

"Also, the players must have enough time to interact with each other."

Howe, who arguably is a member of hockey's greatest quartet with Bobby Orr, Gretzky and Lemieux, said the older players shouldn't be blamed for the losses suffered by Canada and the U.S.

"Age has nothing to do with it," Howe said. "Heck, I played until I was 52 so I could play with my sons, Mark and Marty. In fact, at 52, I was the leading scorer on the team until Christmas before they benched me."

Howe believes that a team selection should be based on scouting reports and scoring performances. He certainly doesn't blame the coaching staff for the failure of the two North American teams in Turin. In his opinion, today's coaches have to be psychologists. They have to have sufficient time to explore the minds of 25 players so they can ascertain who was having a bad day and why.

"Some player may have had a drink too many the night before the game," the Great Gordon said. "I didn't have that problem because I was either too cheap, or didn't like the stuff."

Speaking of right wingers, Ron Ellis, who played on that side for the Maple Leafs, is younger than Howe. But he played against the Russians -- then known as the Soviets -- and found out how powerful they can be. In fact, Ellis played in that famous Canada-Soviet series in 1972 on a line with Bobby Clarke and Paul Henderson.

And Ellis was puzzled by the reaction of fans to Canada's loss to the Russians in Turin.

"What people are forgetting is that, going back to the 1972 series, we lost three games and tied one before we captured the series with 34 seconds to go in the eighth and deciding game on Paul Henderson's goal in Moscow. Also, the games we won there we did so by one goal. We knew then that the Russians can have a wonderful team. So can the Finns and the Swedes.

"I'm not surprised that the Europeans did so well in Turin. In the past, they may have been intimidated by the aggressive style of North American NHL players, but that no longer prevails.

"I also feel that players such as Mats Sundin, Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne and others who grew up playing on a large ice surface have no trouble returning to that style of play."

Ellis, the popular spokesman for the Hockey Hall of Fame, figures our expectations are too big. He agrees with Team Canada player Brad Richards, who said that just because our players were born in Canada it doesn't necessarily follow that they must win gold medals.

On the contrary, this year it will be players born in Scandinavia who will earn hockey gold.