Gretzky rounds out Canada's Olympic roster
After months of rumour, speculation and anticipation, Wayne Gretzky sat before a packed media conference at the Hockey Hall of Fame and named the 15 players who will fill out Canada's Olympic roster.
For this group of players the goal will be simple end Canada's 50-year drought and bring back gold.
While many of Gretzky's selections weren't much of a surprise, he did pull one trick out of his hat by naming goaltender Ed Belfour as one of the three netminders for the team.
Many thought that he would choose the netminder of his Phoenix Coyotes, Sean Burke.
"This is a great day for hockey in Canada," said Gretzky, executive director of the 2002 Canadian Olympic hockey program.
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After bringing out the first eight players, the so-called Elite Eight, named to the team earlier in the year, Gretzky and assistant executive director Kevin Lowe named the forwards.
The first name was Jarome Iginla, the NHL's current scoring leader, followed by Theo Fleury, Mike Peca, Simon Gagne, Brendan Shanahan, Ryan Smyth, Joe Nieuwendyk and Eric Lindros.
Coaches are obviously planning on Smyth returning to form after breaking his ankle in November.
Unlike the 1998 selection process, when many wondered why Mark Messier was left off the team, there wasn't much debate about the group of forwards picked for this year's squad.
While Joe Thornton and Keith Primeau are a few of the glaring omissions, this is probably the best group of forwards to play the puck-possession, run-and-gun type of hockey that coach Pat Quinn wants to employ at the Olympics.
Trying to weed out a huge amount of talent on the blue line was one of the toughest decisions for Team Canada's executive.
Gretzky decided on a blend of proven, veteran leadership with some young talent.
Eric Brewer, Adam Foote, Ed Jovanovski and Al MacInnis will play on Canada's blueline.
New Jersey's Scott Stevens and Philadelphia's Eric Desjardins, both of whom were on the 1998 team, were noticeably left off the roster.
Calgary's Derek Morris and Ottawa's Wade Redden, who was in the middle of having a fine season with the Senators, were considered among the favourites for the roster as well.
One of the biggest surprises about Team Canada's 2002 was Gretzky's choice in goal.
With Burke putting up some of the best numbers of any Canadian goaltender this season, as well as playing under the eye of Gretzky, the Coyotes' part-owner, many figured the former Olympian a lock to be named to the team.
But Gretzky decided to select Belfour, Martin Brodeur and Curtis Joseph as the team's top three goaltenders.
Both Gretzky and coach Pat Quinn refused to say which two of the three would be named Canada's primary goalies in Salt Lake City.
"As we approach the Games, we'll make that decision," Quinn said. "We won't surprise them (with a last-minute decision).
"I doubt very much that we'll ride one guy."
Many hockey insiders thought that Belfour, who is known as a great goaltender but a coaching nightmare, would be left off the team.
Goaltending was already a hot topic before the team was named.
Patrick Roy, who performed brilliantly as Canada's No. 1 netminder in Nagano, announced on Nov. 21 that he didn't want to take part in the 2002 Salt Lake Games and wanted to rest his body for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Every one of the players selected took part in the Olympic orientation camp in September.
The Canadian brain trust reportedly met Friday night in Toronto to finalize its decision.
The eight Canadian players already named to the team were Rob Blake of Colorado, Chris Pronger of St. Louis, Scott Niedermayer of New Jersey, Joe Sakic of Colorado, Paul Kariya of Anaheim, Owen Nolan of San Jose and Steve Yzerman of Detroit.
Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins was named the team's captain.
Gretzky said that he didn't make any calls to any of the players not chosen, mentioning that injuries might occur and force changes to the roster.
"This may not be the final roster that goes in the day before the Olympic Games," said Gretzky, noting that Kariya could not play in 1998 due to injury.
Canada's last Olympic men's hockey gold was won in 1952 by the Edmonton Mercurys.
Canada claimed silver in 1992 and 1994. The '94 team in Lillehammer, Norway featured Kariya, while Lindros played on the Albertville, France team.