The Countdown Begins

John Lebow
Dec 1, 2001

What a difference a couple of months can make. With December 22nd being the last day to name an Olympic Team, executive director of Team Canada Wayne Gretzky has a lot to think about. The top two scorers in the NHL this year were not even invited to the Olympic "not a training" camp before NHL training camps opened. Brendan Shanahan, who failed to score in 1998 against Dominik Hasek, when the shootout was on the line, is second in NHL scoring and playing with a fire that had been missing from his game for the past two or three seasons. Jarome Iginla, first in the league's scoring race must be making Willie O'Ree feel that everything he went through on the ice being the first black player in the NHL is worth it.

Eric Lindros is third in the league in scoring, proving that he still has everything it takes to be a winner. It has been a long time when Canadians were 1-2-3 in league in scoring and none of them are Gretzky or Lemieux. Speaking of Mario...is his hip even healthy enough to play in the Olympics this year? If I were Pat Quinn, head coach of Team Canada, I would be hoping that he's taking all these games off because he wants a gold medal. Ryan Smyth's ankle injury may have lost him his chance at playing for Team Canada, which should be very disappointing for the Oilers' forward, especially since he had a strong camp with Team Canada.

The goaltending seems to be in a bit of disarray right now. Patrick Roy has said that he won't go, and most believe that is because he was not named the number one starter right away. Martin Brodeur seems to have played his way off this team, and right now, the only way to justify making Brodeur a selection would be to have him being the number three guy. Curtis Joseph has had a stellar start thus far, and will be named to the team, as for what other goalie will be going, feel free to take your pick from Ed Belfour, Sean Burke, and perhaps Jose Theodore, or Jocelain Thibault. The last two have helped the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks get to their fast starts, and may have tailed off a bit, but still have good enough numbers to warrant a selection.

The core of the Canadian defence will revolve around a top four of Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermeyer, Rob Blake (All already named to the team) and most likely Ed Jovanovski, who takes control in his end very well, and can get the puck up to guys like Paul Kariya and Theo Fleury, who will be using their speed to take advantage of the lack of a centre red line to get behind the defence all alone. Assuming the team takes seven defensemen, two Eric's, Brewer and Desjardins will get to go, as will Adam Foote.

With all this talent, and knowing how Pat Quinn likes to shuffle his lines, look for these combinations when Canada plays its' first game. The first line will have Mario Lemieux centering Paul Kariya and, hopefully, Jarome Iginla. If Mario isn't healthy enough to play, look for Joe Sakic to centre the same top line. If he is healthy, expect a second line of Joe Sakic in between Eric Lindros and Owen Nolan, which should give any team defensive fits. Jeff O'Neil, who, despite playing in Carolina, is having a great season, and should be on the right side of Steve Yzerman with teammate Brendan Shanahan on the left. Mike Peca will be the fourth line centre, with Luc Robitaille and Mark Recchi on either side.

The defence should line up with Chris Pronger and Ed Jovanovski on the top and Rob Blake with Scott Niedermayer below them. Eric Desjardins will team with Adam Foote, and Eric Brewer will be invited in case someone gets injured.

Just writing this gave me a pretty good feeling, can't wait until February, I want the games now. I guess patience really is a virtue.

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