Youngsters get invite to compete for Team Canada roster positions

By Jake Dole
According to numerous sources, Wade Redden, Eric Brewer, Ed Jovanovski, Alex Tanguay and Ryan Smyth, among others, have been invited to a summer orientation camp, in preparation for the 2002 Olympic games in Salt Lake City. There is a clear indication that Canada is making an attempt to add some speed and youthful enthusiasm to an all-new version of its Olympic hockey squad.

It will be a while before the deciding reserves are announced, but so far there is a clearer sense of the attempt to construct a faster, more energetic team. The memories of the failure in Nagano still come to minds of Canadian hockey fans when the world winter Olympics are mentioned. The attempt to assemble a team based on experience, failed miserably. The 1998 squad looked tired and slow, showing little ability of putting the puck in the net. Although the gold medal game did not seem far away, Canada failed to score when it mattered most.

The key for Canada, as well as for any other hockey nation participating, will be to build a team based centrally on speed. With the large Olympic ice surface, skating will dominate. The key is not to build a Stanley Cup contender (and the 1998 team seemed to be built according to that idea), but a gold medal contender; two distinct goals which cannot be achieved using the same mind set. Let’s think of some recent Stanley Cup winning teams: Dallas, New Jersey, Colorado. Main players involved being Scott Stevens, Joe Nieuwendyk, Bobby Holik, Ray Bourque to name a few. Recently it has been elementary to note that to succeed in the NHL, one needs grit and suffocating defense in order to achieve success. Stanley Cup runner-ups such as Florida, Washington and Buffalo, mainly benefitted from the system of banging hard and clawing your way past each round.

However, this experiment proved to be unsuccessful. No matter how you put it, Canada’s worst enemies were age and lack of production. Let’s observe the 1998 Nagano forwards and defensemen:

Forwards: Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman, Theoren Fleury, Rod Brind’Amour, Eric Lindros, Mark Recchi, Keith Primeau, Wayne Gretzky, Rob Zamuner, Trevor Linden, Nieuwendyk, Shane Corson.
Defensemen: Chris Pronger, Adam Foote, Rob Blake, Ray Bourque, Al MacInnis, Eric Desjardins, Scott Stevens.

Let’s consider some factors. Take note of the offensive talent at the top lines as well as an assembly of defensive minded forwards, such as Corson, Linden and Nieuwendyk. There is a plenty of defensive/physical presence (Lindros, Primeau, Corson, Zamuner, Nieuwendyk, Linden, Foote, Stevens, Pronger). Add solid goaltending to the mix and the recipe to success smells like victory… Well, maybe not.

Somehow, the top lines struggled to generate any kind of production, and the checking lines failed to back them up with goals of their own (aside from Trevor Linden’s game-tying goal against the Czechs). Gretzky looked tired; Bourque looked tired; Yzerman looked tired. With the absence of Karya and Sakic, the team looked just plain ordinary. Important factors such as speed, skating, energy, hockey sense, were all equally nonexistent. The Czechs attacked them like praying mantises, toyed with them, and then delivered the knockout punch in the shootout.

Another detail to take note of is the age of certain players. Gretzky was born is 1961, Yzerman in 1965, Nieuwendyk in 1966, Corson in 1966, Bourque in 1960, MacInnis in 1963, Stevens in 1964, Roy in 1965. The average birth year of the forwards is 1968, while the average birth year of the blueliners is 1967. This was not an old team, but interestingly enough, Chris Pronger was the only one to represent the U-25 age range.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that the key to Team Canada’s success this time around, will be youth. Sure, there will be Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, etc. But the energy and enthusiasm will come from the younger, stronger players. As good as Mario is, he’s not getting any stronger with age, and it’s getting tougher for him to handle the daily rigours of hockey. Ultimately, these young kids will make the difference, and decide Team Canada’s fate in Salt Lake City.

Let’s take a look at some of the candidates:

Wade Redden. Ottawa Senators. 6-2, 205. 6/12/77. 00-01 Stats: 78GM, 10G, 37A, 47PTS, +23

Impressed with a breakout year in Ottawa. Played consistently and showed a physical side to his game. Had a disappointing playoff, after which he was thoroughly scrutinized by Ottawa Senator fans and the media. Wade does not have a great chance of making the team; he will have to have an outstanding camp to do so.

Eric Brewer. Edmonton Oilers. 6-3, 220. 4/17/79. 00-01 Stats: 77GM, 7G, 13A, 20PTS, +15

If he does make the team, it will be on the shoulders of his playoff performance versus the Dallas Stars. Eric scored a goal and amassed 6 points in 6 games. It is hard to believe that only a year ago, Brewer struggled, was traded by the Islanders and his potential was in question. This year, Eric took hold of his new opportunity, and played with great confidence and two-way ability.

Ed Jovanovski. Vancouver Canucks. 6-2, 210. 6/26/76. 00-01 Stats: 79GM, 12G, 35A, 47PTS, -1.

Jovo-Cop came off a breakthrough career season. After a disappointing start to his career, Jovanovski finally played up to expectations and made the all-star team. Adding an offensive side to his hard-nosed style of play, truly established Ed as one of the best two-way blueliners in the league. At 25, Ed already plays like a veteran; his offensive tools, aggressiveness and hockey sense will be duly noted by Pat Quinn and company.

Alex Tanguay. Colorado Avalanche. 6-0, 180. 11/21/79. 00-01 Stats: 82GM, 27G, 50A, 77PTS, +35.

Some expected the sophomore jinx to overtake Alex, but it never occurred. Playing with experienced veterans, Alex showed exceptional maturity and intelligence on the ice. His production went up 26 points in the regular season and his playoff numbers improved dramatically, also. With his name on the Stanley Cup, expect the Team Canada coaches to give him a chance.

Ryan Smyth. Edmonton Oilers. 6-1, 195. 2/21/76. 00-01 Stats: 82GM, 31G, 39A, 70PTS, +10

Despite the excellent regular season performance, it was Smyth’s inspired playoff, that caused his invitation to the summer orientation session. Although not the best skater, Smyth has exceptional work ethic, threshold for pain and competitiveness. As of now, it looks like Ryan is a lock to make the team.

Other youngsters, who would look good with a maple leaf on their sweaters are Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne. Providing excellent skating ability, they would surely add to the excitement of the Olympics.

Note: Here are all the names invited to the orientation session. Defensemen: Al MacInnis, Adam Foote, Scott Stevens, Eric Brewer and Ed Jovanovski. Forwards: Keith Primeau, Jason Arnott, Mark Recchi, Alex Tanguay, Ryan Smyth, and Michael Peca. Goalies: Martin Brodeur, Curtis Joseph.