Stars, youth galore for Canada

Yes: Crosby, Pronger, Brodeur - No: Green, Smyth, St. Louis

30.12.2009
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Grand Forks ND United States

Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby and Corey Perry led Canada to 2005 World Junior gold - will they win gold again at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver? Photo: Dave Sandford

2010 host nation Canada boasts enough depth to ice two or three Olympic teams, but could only announce a 23-man roster on December 30 in Saskatoon. As usual, the omissions were as notable as the inclusions.

Nobody was surprised to see the likes of Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, or Corey Perry named to the squad. But eye-catching newcomers included 20-year-old L.A. defenceman Drew Doughty, who won World Junior gold in 2008 and World Championship silver in 2009; the Chicago Blackhawks defence pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook; and Boston's Patrice Bergeron, who showed great chemistry with Sidney Crosby at the '05 World Juniors and '06 Worlds and has rebounded from concussion problems. Hard-driving Dallas captain Brenden Morrow also cracked the roster.

Significant omissions included Los Angeles Kings forward Ryan Smyth, the seven-time World Championship participant and two-time Olympian dubbed “Captain Canada”; scoring ace Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning; Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes, a two-time gold medalist at the Worlds; Brad Richards, who won the Conn Smythe and Lady Byng Trophies, Stanley Cup, and World Cup in 2004; Martin St. Louis, who led the 2009 Worlds in scoring with 15 points as Canada took silver; Washington's Mike Green, the NHL's leading scorer among defencemen; and the Calgary Flames blueline trio of Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr, and Jay Bouwmeester.

As Team Canada's GM, can Steve Yzerman succeed with his group in 2010 where Wayne Gretzky fell short in 2006? That's the million-dollar question. The Turin roster proved to be too slow and too old. This time, the team includes 12 players aged 25 or younger, and 15 who are first-time Olympians.

Canada isn't merely aiming to improve on its disastrous seventh-place finish from four years ago. With its all-NHL roster under coach Mike Babcock, it will settle for nothing less than regaining supremacy in the world's biggest international hockey event on home ice in Vancouver. Canada finished fourth in its only previous home-ice Olympics (1988 in Calgary).

The 2010 goaltending will look very similar to the '06 version. The selection of Quebec-trained veterans Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo likely means they will split duties between the pipes again, even though the third goalie, Marc-André Fleury, has played in two straight Stanley Cup finals and won with Pittsburgh in 2009.

Brodeur, who backstopped Canada to Olympic gold in 2002, became the all-time leader among NHL goalies in several categories in 2009 (career wins, playoff shutouts, minutes played, games played, and regular season shutouts). His numbers this season with the New Jersey Devils (92.0 save percentage and 2.15 GAA) mirror what he posted in 2008, when he won the latest of his four Vezina Trophies.

At age 30, Luongo is nearly seven years younger than Brodeur, and will be competing in his home arena, GM Place (to be known as Canada Hockey Place during the Olympics). He's served as Brodeur's backup on three occasions: the 2004 World Cup, 2005 World Championship, and 2006 Olympics. He also served as the starter when Canada won the 2004 Worlds. Since Luongo joined the Vancouver Canucks in 2006-07, he's approximated a 2.30 GAA and 93.0 save percentage every year, and this year is no exception. Based on skill, size, and athleticism, is it now the Vancouver workhorse's time to take over as the starter? Or can Fleury, tied for second in NHL wins, challenge for playing time? Intriguing questions for the Canadian coaching staff.

Injuries and spotty play ruled out the other two goalies invited to Canada's summer orientation camp (Carolina's Cam Ward and Columbus's Steve Mason).

The defence selections emphasize all-around rearguards who can play in any situation. Skating, passing, hard shots, physicality, and smarts mark this Canadian blueline. Norris Trophy winners include 35+ veterans like captain Scott Niedermayer and alternate captain Chris Pronger, but 1980's-born blueliners like Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, and Drew Doughty bring fresh legs and power. Mike Green, the NHL's highest-scoring D-man in the last two seasons, was left off due to his perceived defensive liabilities.

Canada's depth of talent up front may only be rivaled by Russia's top-end blend of speed, skill, and explosiveness. After being spurned in 2006, Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby makes his Olympic debut with one past IIHF gold medal to his credit (the 2005 World Juniors), and the 2009 Stanley Cup. The San Jose trio of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau is expected to play as a line and hopefully replicate their regular-season NHL success. Thornton leads the NHL with 54 points.

Anaheim youngsters Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf bring finesse and grit. Expected to assume a checking or shut-down role is Philadelphia's Mike Richards, while Jonathan Toews of Chicago can win faceoffs, deliver in the shootout, or fill other niches.

There are 15 Olympic newcomers: Patrice Bergeron, Dan Boyle, Sidney Crosby, Drew Doughty, Marc-André Fleury, Ryan Getzlaf, Duncan Keith, Patrick Marleau, Brenden Morrow, Corey Perry, Mike Richards, Brent Seabrook, Eric Staal, Jonathan Toews, and Shea Weber.

Pronger is the lone veteran who played for Canada's 1998 Olympic team. He will play in his fourth consecutive Olympics. (Martin Brodeur was on the '98 roster but didn't play.)

Four members of the 2010 roster helped Canada win its first Olympic gold in 50 years at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, USA. They are Martin Brodeur, Jarome Iginla, Scott Niedermayer, and Chris Pronger.

Seven players are returnees from the Turin roster. The list includes Martin Brodeur, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Roberto Luongo, Rick Nash, Chris Pronger, and Joe Thornton.

All selected players except Patrice Bergeron were on Canada's summer orientation camp roster.

Click here for the men’s Olympic rosters.

LUCAS AYKROYD

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