Getzlaf is the real deal at these Games

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VANCOUVER — Steve Yzerman broke his own rule to make certain Ryan Getzlaf was on the Canadian Olympic team, and now Getzlaf wants to reward that faith with a gold-medal performance Sunday.

The feeling is that deep, that mutual, that personal.

“I’ve thanked Steve many times for being patient with my injury,” Getzlaf said Saturday. “I know he had way more pressure on him than I had on me. It’s a situation where Steve showed faith in me. And I want to repay for him that.”

If it wasn’t apparent before, it has become conversation since the beginning of the Olympic hockey tournament: Getzlaf may well be the best big-game player in hockey. Yzerman believed that coming in, which is why he abandoned his “we’re only taking players who are 100% healthy” determination to make sure there would be a place for Getzlaf on Team Canada.

While Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin may be the bigger names on this, the biggest stage of world hockey, Getzlaf has looked more comfortable. He has been a force offensively, a force physically, almost a personal representative of the best qualities of Canadian hockey. It isn’t all about scoring with Getzlaf: It’s everything he does that seems to make a difference.

“I don’t know what it is about him, he just thrives on the atmosphere,” said Chris Pronger, who used to play with Getzlaf in Anaheim. “He pushes himself to try and be the best player in the game. He’s a big guy who can do everything in traffic. He’s got a great skill set but he plays with an edge. He can play a finesse game, and he can play every facet of the game.

“That’s why he’s here.”

The real advantages Canada has over the United States in Sunday’s gold-medal game come from their strength at centre. The U.S. has to find a way to stop Crosby, Joe Thornton, Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews, who have been the best forwards on Team Canada. They may be able to stop one of themb but they shouldn’t be able to stop all four.

“Getzlaf is the one that worries me,” said Bobby Ryan, the American forward who plays with him on the Anaheim Ducks. “Getzlaf has hit his stride in this tournament. He’s one of the guys we’re focussed on to contain. You play with him you appreciate all the things he can do.”

Getzlaf worried this day would never come. For more than a year, he’s been thinking Olympics. When he injured his ankle this close to the Olympics, he thought this opportunity was gone. But Yzerman, in running Team Canada, waited until the absolute last minute — then waited some more, — to keep every option open for Getzlaf.

“You’re at home and you’re worried, they could add this guy, or they could add that guy,” said Getzlaf. “They had a lot of options. You look around and you start realizing how many good players they had to choose from. But they waited for me. That means something to me.”

It is extra motivation, if Getzlaf needed any, which he doesn’t. This gold-medal game is something he wants very badly. He admits he loves the big game.

“This is everything I’ve expected it to be,” said Getzlaf, of his first Olympic experience. “I’m excited. We’re excited to go out and play for the gold medal on the biggest stage and the best tournament in the world. This is how you measure yourself. It’s about winning a gold medal tomorrow.”

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca


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