After months of anxious anticipation from hockey fans, Wayne Gretzky announced Team Canada's 26-player roster for this summer's World Cup of Hockey on Saturday morning.
Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla â the backbone of Canada's gold-medal winning team at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City â were the top names on the list of players revealed by Gretzky, Team Canada's executive director, at a news conference at Calgary's Pengrowth Saddledome.
- Indepth: World Cup of Hockey 2004
Atlanta Thrashers forward Dany Heatley, who no doubt helped his cause by finishing as the top scorer in leading Canada to the gold at the recently completed world hockey championship in Prague, was also named to the roster.
"He played extremely well in Prague," said Gretzky at the news conference. "He's just a hockey player, he loves to play and compete. He was a no-brainer for our hockey club."
In a bit of a surprise, suspended Vancouver Canucks winger Todd Bertuzzi was not selected, as Hockey Canada chose to avoid the potential distractions his nomination would have created.
"It was a tough decision in the sense that as a group we had the utmost respect for Todd Bertuzzi as a hockey player," said Gretzky. "We would be lying if we didn't say we had him in the mix of 15 (forwards) to be on this hockey team."
"On the other side of it, at this point in time we also felt that, it was a decision ... for the NHL itself to make the ruling on Todd Bertuzzi and whether he be reinstated."
Had Team Canada selected Bertuzzi, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would have held a hearing to determine whether or not to re-instate him following his attack of Colorado's Steve Moore in March.
"We do not have to officially put our team in until Aug. 29," said Gretzky. "If he's reinstated between now and Aug. 29 and there is an injury to one of our players then we would seriously consider adding Todd Bertuzzi to this hockey team."
Other forwards selected were Kirk Maltby, Steve Yzerman, Brenden Morrow, Kris Draper, Ryan Smyth, Simon Gagne, Shane Doan, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards.
New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, Florida's Roberto Luongo and Toronto's Ed Belfour took the three goalie spots.
The eight defencemen slots were filled by Rob Blake, Adam Foote, Chris Pronger, Ed Jovanovski, Scott Niedermayer, Wade Redden, Robyn Regehr and Eric Brewer.
Aside from Bertuzzi, the glaring omissions from the roster include forwards Vincent Lecavalier, Alex Tanguay, Rick Nash and Keith Primeau, as well as goaltender Jose Theodore.
"There are no surprises as far as I'm concerned, each and every guy on this team deserves to be there," said Gretzky.
In total Gretzky, who also built the Canadian team that won the gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics, brought back 14 players from that Olympic champion squad, including captain Mario Lemieux.
Gone from the Salt Lake City team of 2002 are goalie Curtis Joseph, defenceman Al MacInnis, and forwards Paul Kariya, Theo Fleury, Eric Lindros, Joe Nieuwendyk, Michael Peca, Brendan Shanahan and Owen Nolan.
Gretzky and his management staff of Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini, and Jim Nill, the general manager of Canada's 2004 world championship team, were involved in the player selection process.
The remaining seven teams have until May 25th to make their final selections for the tournament, which will be staged from Aug. 30-Sept. 14. Sweden will announce its roster Monday.
Each World Cup roster will be made up of 23 skaters and three goaltenders. Three of the 26 players will be under the age of 22, and the teams will dress 18 skaters and two goalies for each game.
Canadian head coach Pat Quinn and associate coaches Jacques Martin, Ken Hitchcock and Wayne Fleming will hold a 10-day training camp in late August in Ottawa and play three exhibition games before finalizing its roster.
The U.S. beat Canada in the final to win the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996.
The Czech Republic plays Finland in Helsinki in the tournament opener Aug. 30 while Canada opens against the U.S. at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Aug. 31. The championship final goes Sept. 14 at Toronto's Air Canada Centre.
Team Canada's full roster:
GOALTENDERS: Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils), Roberto Luongo (Florida Panthers), Ed Belfour (Toronto Maple Leafs).
DEFENCEMEN: Scott Niedermayer (New Jersey), Rob Blake (Colorado Avalanche), Adam Foote (Colorado), Ed Jovanovski (Vancouver Canucks), Chris Pronger (St. Louis Blues), Eric Brewer (Edmonton Oilers), Wade Redden (Ottawa Senators), Robin Regehr (Calgary Flames).
FORWARDS: Mario Lemieux (Pittsburgh Penguins), Joe Sakic (Colorado), Joe Thornton (Boston Bruins), Steve Yzerman (Detroit Red Wings), Brad Richards (Tampa Bay Lightning), Patrick Marleau (San Jose Sharks), Kris Draper (Detroit), Jarome Iginla (Calgary), Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay), Dany Heatley (Atlanta Thrashers), Shane Doan (Phoenix Coyotes), Simon Gagne (Philadelphia Flyers), Ryan Smyth (Edmonton), Brenden Morrow (Dallas Stars), Kirk Maltby (Detroit).