'Everyone expects gold'

By RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA



Sure, there's pressure skating for the showcase team at a home-ice Olympics in hockey-mad Canada.

But it's nothing, Rick Nash knows, compared to the empty, medal-less feeling left over from Italy three years ago.

"It was awful," said the Columbus Blue Jackets star forward, who reports to Canada's Olympic orientation camp Monday in Calgary as part of the pre-Vancouver process for February.

"To finish sixth or seventh like we did (in Turin), it felt terrible and you never want that to happen again. Especially with the Olympics being in Canada, everyone expects a gold medal."

Before heading west, the former Knight played in the team's eighth annual golf tournament yesterday, this time in support of Special Olympics. The Knights are a platinum sponsor of next year's Special Olympics Canada Summer Games in London and have pledged to raise $100,000 for the cause.

The organization has also been, since Nash started scoring big goals at the old London Ice House, hockey's highest-profile breeding ground for NHL talent.

Top pick John Tavares and Toronto Maple Leaf prospect Nazem Kadri are the most recent additions to the club's long list of first-rounders.

"You go back from Brendan Shanahan to Dino (Ciccarelli) and the Knights have a long history of sending guys to the NHL," Nash said, "but it's like when the Hunters took over, everything just flipped.

"And I know first-hand what (Tavares and Kadri) will go through in their first years in the NHL. You need to put up numbers and have fun but you need veterans -- I had guys like Tyler Wright and Grant Marshall -- to help you along the way."

Nash also has a big season ahead of him. He's entering his prime, just signed a massive eight-year extension, is coming off the Jackets' first playoff appearance and the Olympics are just around the corner.

"We want to build on it in Columbus," he said. "(Former Knights goalie) Steve Mason was unbelievable for us. We have young guys entering their contract year. Hopefully, they realize what it takes."

For years, Nash has tried to lay a foundation in Ohio. In Chicago this year, David Bolland was part of a Blackhawks restoration.

"You hear the stories of what it was like at the old Chicago Stadium," the former Knights standout said, "and this season, it felt like that. The fans were cheering from the national anthem till the end of the game and I don't know what they put in their juice or their beer there, but they're crazy the whole time."

Knights GM Mark Hunter spent the summer reloading after losing in the third round of the OHL playoffs to Memorial Cup champ Windsor -- the biggest hurdle to jump again this year.

Defenceman John Carlson is a longshot to return after winning a Calder Cup with Washington affiliate Hershey in the American Hockey League.

"To get that Cup for a few days, it's kind of expensive and we left that for the older guys to enjoy," Carlson said. "Being part of it just helped me so much and playing in London this year was the most fun I ever had in hockey."

Maybe Russian defenceman Anton Klementyev, an Islanders draft pick, will feel the same this season.

The 19-year-old Knights import pick stood out in recent exhibitions against the United States world junior hopefuls, including Carlson and Phil McRae, this month.

"He was their (the Russians') best player," said McRae, who was strong offensively at the camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., and is up over 200 pounds after working out this summer in St. Louis. "It's a big goal of mine to make that (U.S.) team. It should be a contender. (And in London) I want to score more. It should be a good team again."

It's a Knights club now up to 7,100 season tickets and ready to unveil new jerseys with a retro-looking logo from the Darryl Sittler days in mid-September. At training camp starting on Wednesday, the Hunters will whittle down a list of 70 skaters and figure out who wears those sweaters opening night.

"The fans realize we're trying to do everything we can to win and play exciting hockey," Mark Hunter said. "They know what we have and what we don't have on our roster. We have to wait to see if (Michael) Del Zotto and Kadri, and if Carlson, it's a long shot, comes back, then who knows what could happen?

"We're going to lean on defencemen like Scott Harrington and Jake Worrad, but they need time to grow."

And when they do, they know the door will open to more opportunities.

POLL