Yzerman stands up for Canada

Men's hockey GM gets feisty with reporters

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VANCOUVER — He was a Hall-of-Fame forward, but Steve Yzerman showed he can play some pretty good defence Sunday.

Meeting with reporters from around the globe, a feisty Yzerman — Team Canada’s executive director — artfully and, sometimes forcefully, staked out the framework for Canada to recoup its place atop the hockey world. He also deflected questions about all the pressure being on the home side.

Opinionated and decisive, Yzerman projected an air of confidence and showed he’s got a clear grasp of how Canada can be best postioned to be on the top of the podium in two weeks.

Time and again, he faced questions about the enormous pressure Team Canada faces playing on its home ice.

“Honestly, do you think they’ll have a parade in Moscow if the Russians go home with a silver medal? They won’t,” he told one European reporter who asked about the pressure Yzerman faced. “The expectation in Russia is gold. The expectation in Sweden is gold. Whether they admit or not, the USA is in this to win a gold medal and we won’t forget any of the other countries, as well. All of us are playing to win the tournament, to win the gold medal. Every team that doesn’t will be disappointed.

“The Russians have won the last two world championships. They’re bringing their best players, they’ve got some of the top forwards in the world right now. They’re the number one-ranked team in the world. They’re the favourite going into this tournament. We have to play our best and with a little bit of luck, the other countries can somehow dethrone them.

“It comes down to character,” said Yzerman, “and we believe we’ve got 23 guys with great character.”

Yzerman has clearly spent a lot of time figuring out how to help his 23 players — who will report Sunday night, practise Monday and open against Norway Tuesday — deal with the enormity of the job in front of them.

“To me, it’s a Stanley Cup final. Basically, you play six or seven games to win a gold medal. You’ve got that first three games, much like an NHL playoff series, a seven-game series. You’re not possibly eliminated until the fourth game. It’s the same type of situation. We’ve play Norway, Switzerland, the USA and then we play a qualification game or quarterfinal game and you have to win those from that point on. That’s the way we have to treat it is we’re playing in a Stanley Cup final.

“I agree with you a lot of it is a crapshoot, but you’ve got to make educated decisions along the way. You’ve got to prepare along the way much like you would for any playoff series in the NHL.”

Yzerman, who helped Canada to gold in 2002, didn’t tiptoe around the issue of the future of NHLers in the Olympics.

A decision won’t likely be made on NHLers participation in Sochi four years from now until a new collective bargaining agreement between NHL owners and the players is negotiated, likely for 2012 season.

“I believe in the three Olympic Games in which the NHL has participated, it has enhanced the Games. It’s been great for hockey. You’ve had three different gold medal winners. It’s been great for the game and it’s been great for the NHL. As a former player and playing with a lot of these guys and knowing them, they love being a part of this. It’s an incredible honour for them. My opinion is it would be a mistake for us not to be involved, regardless of the inconveniences and whatnot.

“It would be a mistake for the game if we’re not involved.”

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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