Yzerman bides his time

By STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA



Spreading out across the continent today, the 46 players who took part in Team Canada's Olympic orientation camp won't quickly forget their four days in Calgary.

They'll be wondering -- just as every Canadian hockey fan will -- what their chances are of making the team for the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Scrimmaging in a friendly game with minimal contact wasn't meant to do much for their chances.

How they perform early in the NHL regular season will go a long way in convincing executive director Steve Yzerman they belong on his final list of 23 due Dec. 31.

But Ryan Smyth sure helped his hopes with an inspired performance that included a goal.

Hustling and hitting -- about as rigidly as possible in the environment he was in -- the 33-year-old who's about to embark on another chapter of his career with the Los Angeles Kings brought back memories of the way he played with the Edmonton Oilers and former versions of Team Canada.

Yzerman already knew what Smyth was capable of, but it serves as a reminder to maybe watch him a little more closely in L.A. the next few months.

Others, like Corey Perry, might have hurt themselves a little.

Showing off some awesome skills with quick hands behind the net to earn himself a wraparound goal in the third period, Perry doesn't lack talent.

Discipline, however, is another area entirely.

Taking a pair of penalties in what was essentially an all-star game puts him in the Todd Bertuzzi category -- he might hurt more than help despite his best intentions as a fiery competitor.

His hit on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't as bad as many believed it to be when they saw the Pittsburgh Penguins backstop fly forward into the boards, but it was a situation he surely should have avoided during a scrimmage.

Still, Yzerman won't make any rash decisions based on the culmination of four days of drills cramming systems studies into the players' craniums.

"Each player out there, I believe I have a good understanding of their strengths and where they would be real effective," Yzerman said Thursday. "Some guys are more versatile than others and could potentially go in different spots.

"The tournament is six months from now. We've got players here that are coming off an injury -- there's just so many things we have to watch and make a decision when we have to make a decision."

As for when that may be, don't hold your breath.

The Olympic rosters don't have to be submitted until Dec. 31, and Yzerman plans to use as much of the next few months as possible to draw conclusions.

"We have a very deep, talented pool of players to choose from," he said.

"My thought right now is I'd like to make an announcement as close to Dec. 31 as possible. As late as we can."

Thursday was the last chance for coaches and management staff to sit together in person and talk about players. Yesterday marked the start of the next stage of the selection process.

"In the interim, it's really about watching and discussing the players. Ultimately seeing who's healthy and who's playing well, because health will come into it a lot," said Yzerman. "It's just watching and talking a lot.

"Young guys, we're looking for them, if they can take another step forward in their careers. The older players, some of them coming off of injury, is their game back and are they still at the level they were at last year?"

All of Canada awaits the answers to those questions -- just don't forget to breathe, because Christmas is a long way off.

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA

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