Situation similar to Salt Lake

By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER -- Wayne Gretzky used two words to describe the situation Team Canada finds themselves at in this Olympic hockey tournament.

"Eerily similar," he said.

The next question was to what? Salt Lake? Or Turin?

"Eerily similar to Salt Lake," he replied.

Salt Lake, of course, was where The Great One made his now famous speech about the world hating Canada and wanting us to lose. That speech took the focus off his embattled hockey players and turned the tide. The team he headed went on to win the first gold medal in 50 years for Canada at the Olympic Winter Games.

"The difference between that team in Salt Lake and this team is that this team is playing better," he said. "That team in Salt Lake was 1-1-1 and wasn't playing this well."

The speech he made in a media press conference wasn't planned, he still maintains.

"You canıt plan something like that out. It has to be on feel at the moment. It has to just sort of happen," he said. "It did turn out to be a momentum changer. I think it gave the team a breather mentally and they kind of came together from there. They had a trust with each other from then on."

Gretzky figures that having an extra game thrown at them against Germany before a Canada-Russia game to get to the medal round -- instead of in the medal round -- could have the same sort of effect. He expects when they hit the ice against the Russians Wednesday, they'll be a much more unified team.

"It seems like Canadian hockey teams have to go through something like this before they come together," said Gretzky. "You can go back all the way to 1972 and the series against the Soviets.

"That team had to come together after the start they had in the first four games in Canada and they did. Even in the Canada Cup in 1984. We had that stress between all the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders.

"Even in the Canada Cup in 1987, we were late coming together. For some reason going through these kinds of things cures some of the jitters and calms them down."

Gretzky says he's not playing a role in this year's tournament. But he very much feels like he's attached to it despite the fact the show is now being run by Steve Yzerman, with Ken Holland as his right-hand man.

"Once you are part of it, you still feel part of it," he said. "It's like having been an Oiler or a Montreal Canadien. Once you've been one, you're one forever.

"I have no title or responsibility. I talk to Kevin quite a bit," he said of Kevin Lowe, his right-hand man for Salt Lake and Turin who remains on the management team. "I've talked to Steve Yzerman a couple times."

Gretzky has been exceptionally busy these Games, being a man-about-town, attending events (he was at

curling the other day) throughout the Olympics which comes with the territory when you were the athlete chosen to be the last to carry the Olympic flame to the cauldron.

"It was phenomenal. I'm glad there were five of us in the end," he said of Rick Hansen wheeling the torch into the stadium to hand it off to Catriona LeMay Doan, who passed it to Steve Nash, who passed it to Nancy Greene, and then off to Gretzky.

He said it wasn't as unnerving as it might have appeared when the hydraulics didn't work on the arm LeMay Doan was about to light.

"We had a rehearsal at about 1 a.m. a couple days earlier and it went without a hitch. But we had earpieces in and we knew there was the problem. It was just too bad Catriona didn't get to light hers. But she handled it wonderfully."

Gretkzy wouldn't say if he's considering joining GM Mark Messier as the coach of Team Canada at this spring's IIHF World Championships in Germany.

"We haven't talked about it. Mark and I went to Russia together for four days and didn't talk about it. But he's coming here and Bob Nicholson of Hockey Canada is here and we'll talk about it before the Olympics are over, perhaps.

"Right now it isn't on my mind at all. I'm focused on the hockey here."

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca

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