Looking for role players

Fisher, Bergeron garner Oly. talk

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI AGENCY


Mike Fisher is an interesting candidate to play a fourth-line role on Canada's Olympic team. (QMI Agency/Darren Brown)


The talk Monday was Steve Yzerman might be in the house in Ottawa to see first-hand one of the key, toughest battles for spots on Team Canada.

As it turned out, Yzerman, Team Canada's executive director, didn't make it to Scotiabank Place to see Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Mike Fisher of the Ottawa Senators go at it.

But you can bet he was watching somewhere.

Bergeron and Fisher are two of the really interesting candidates to play a fourth-line role on Canada's Olympic team, two guys who weren't on the radar after injuries and/or sub-par performances meant they didn't get invites to the summer orientation camp.

But both have had outstanding seasons so far for their respective teams and forced themselves into consideration. Yzerman has been following the Bruins lately and Bergeron has been the reason why.

The 24-year-old has perhaps come the farthest to get into the Olympic battle after missing almost all of the 2007-08 season after suffering a concussion on a hit by former Philadelphia Flyer Randy Jones.

"We've been talking about that," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "Within the Olympic team, you've got Mike Fisher, Mike Richards in Philadelphia, there's a Bergeron. They're all in that group. I give Bergie a lot of credit for that because he's had to come pretty far to get that level.

"The thing that's really helping Bergie at least be considered is he's been great on faceoffs, he's been a great two-way player, he can play centre, he can play wing and he's probably one of our best penalty killers. He's also a guy you can throw out there on the power play."

Versatility is certainly critical for players in the Fisher/Bergeron class. They have to be able to play a role, but also contribute offensively if needed. Bergeron has 27 points (nine goals) in 35 games -- including the game winner against Ottawa Monday night -- and has been strong on the faceoff circle. He performed at 70.6% against the Senators and is at 58.4% for the season, good for seventh in the league (Buffalo Sabre Paul Gaustad leads at 64.6%).

You'd have to give the nod to Bergeron in the head-to-head matchup with Fisher Monday, but a straw poll of pro scouts at the game leaned towards Fisher for the Olympic team. They liked his speed, physical play and sharper scoring touch this season (Fisher has 15 goals and 29 points this season).

"I know picking those teams, when they're looking at the last few players, one thing they want is if something happens at the top, (the player) can move up and if they need him down below, he can be a grinder, be a penalty killer, whatever. You've got to have those guys," said Julien. "They want versatility. If you can play centre or wing, be good on draws, you've got a lot covered and from what I can tell right now, they're looking at those players."

Bergeron said he hasn't been focusing on the battle for Olympic berths and hasn't been distracted since the Olympic roster debate just doesn't filter down to the States.

"I worry about the Bruins. To be honest, I have to make sure I bring my game and give us a chance to win every night," said Bergeron. "I'm in the U.S., I'm in Boston, so I don't have all those channels. I try to stay away from that and just concentrate on myself and the Bruins.

"Just being considered is a huge honour for me," said Bergeron. "I've been part of Team Canada three times and it's been a great experience. It's been awesome."

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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