Canada younger, more balanced than 2002 Olympic squad

Canada's World Cup of Hockey entry is much younger than the team that won gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics

Scott Hannan, Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr share more in common than being left-handed shooters.

All three NHLers are younger than Rob Blake, Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger, the veteran defencemen they have replaced for the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.

Opting for youngsters was a conscious effort on the part of Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky and head coach Pat Quinn to give the team a different look than the group that won gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

Led by greybeards such as Steve Yzerman (36) and Al MacInnis (38), the Olympic squad had an average age of 30, nearly three years older than the World Cup entry (27.5).

On the surface, this Canadian squad also appears a healthier bunch. Gone from the 2002 team are injury-prone forwards Joe Nieuwendyk, Paul Kariya, Owen Nolan and Eric Lindros, along with brittle blue-liners Rob Blake, Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis.

Lastly, while the World Cup players don't have the track records of their predecessors, they certainly aren't short on talent.

Of the 14 newcomers, six had career seasons in 2003-04, while forwards Patrick Marleau and Kirk Maltby matched their personal-best point totals.

Following is a positional breakdown of the two teams:


2002 Olympics: Martin Brodeur, Curtis Joseph, Ed Belfour

2004 World Cup: Brodeur, Jose Theodore, Roberto Luongo

Outlook: Joseph and Belfour have more extensive international experience, but Theodore and Luongo are more than capable of stealing games like the veteran duo.

Theodore, 27, seems to have recaptured his 2002 form when he won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player and Vezina Trophy as top goaltender.

The Montreal Canadiens goalie is coming off a career-high 33 wins last season with six shutouts.

Luongo, 25, is well rested after making an NHL-record 2,219 saves in 2003-04 to break the mark of 2,214 set by Toronto's Felix Potvin in 1996-97.

The Florida Panthers netminder also set career highs in wins (25) shutouts (7), goals-against average and save percentage (.931) during the 2003-04 campaign.

Luongo, a Montreal native, backstopped Canada to a gold medal at the world championships in 2003 and 2004.


2002 Olympics: Scott Niedermayer, Adam Foote, Ed Jovanovski, Eric Brewer, Rob Blake, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger

2004 World Cup: Niedermayer, Foote, Jovanovski, Brewer, Wade Redden, Scott Hannan, Robyn Regehr, Jay Bouwmeester

Outlook: This is a more inexperienced group than Salt Lake, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The returning defencemen give Canada a good mix of size, scoring ability and strong puckhandling skills.

Quick, smart and dependable is probably the best way to describe Redden, Hannan, Regehr and Bouwmeester.

While they can't match MacInnis' slapshot, Blake's in-close finish or Pronger's all-around game, the foursome averages six-foot-two-inches and 215 pounds.

A poised, smooth-skating puckmover, Redden, 27, is a solid two-way performer who in recent years has added a physical dimension to his game.

Hannan, 25, is best known for shutting down Colorado's Peter Forsberg and St. Louis' Keith Tkachuk during the 2004 playoffs and leading San Jose to the Western Conference final.

Regehr, who played 26-plus minutes per game in the playoffs, is one of the NHL's most-feared hitters. The 24-year-old also posted a career-high 18 points in 2003-04.

At 20, Jay Bouwmeester is Canada's youngest player, but the hard-shooting workhorse is a quick study and can be used in all situations.


2002 Olympics: Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic, Jarome Iginla, Ryan Smyth, Simon Gagne, Theo Fleury, Paul Kariya, Eric Lindros, Joe Nieuwendyk, Owen Nolan, Mike Peca, Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman

2004 World Cup: Lemieux, Sakic, Iginla, Smyth, Gagne, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Patrick Marleau, Shane Doan, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Brenden Morrow

Outlook: Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky has re-tooled the offence for the World Cup, opting for fresher legs and players nearing their prime hockey years.

Ten of the 15 forwards are new to the team, with six of them 25-and-under.

Leadership, skill and heart was kept from 2002 in the form of Lemieux, Sakic, Iginla, Gagne and Smyth to complement a more balanced attack.

Canada's World Cup team has all the essential areas covered, including elite shooters (Thornton, Lecavalier), playmakers (Heatley, Richards), strong puckhandling (Marleau), speed (St. Louis, Draper), power forwards (Doan, Morrow) and a checking specialist (Maltby).

St. Louis (94 points), Richards (79), Morrow (49) and Draper (40) had their best seasons a year ago, while Thornton, Lecavalier and Heatley all have topped the 30-goal mark during their young NHL careers.