Having suffered a fairly severe left ankle sprain when he got entangled with Team USA forward Dustin Brown in a game against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 8, center Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks appeared to be a long shot to play for Team Canada in these Olympics. He had, after all, left the Honda Center that night with the aid of crutches, a protective boot on his left foot.
GM Steve Yzerman, aware that Team Canada was hamstrung four years ago by sticking with several banged-up players in Torino, had vowed not to have any injured players on his 2010 roster.
So Yzerman asked Carter, merely a 46-goal scorer for the Flyers last season, to fly to Vancouver following the Flyers' last pre-break game in Montreal on Feb. 13 and be ready to go. Then Yzerman dispatched St. Louis Blues VP of Player Personnel Doug Armstrong, Team Canada's Associate Director of Player Personnel, to Edmonton to watch Getzlaf should he make it into the Ducks' lineup for their pre-break finale on Feb. 14.
What Armstrong saw in person that night, with Yzerman and the rest of Team Canada's management team watching intently from Vancouver, erased any doubt. In a monster performance after missing two games, Getzlaf set up two goals and then scored twice himself in the third period.
Carter was crestfallen. Yzerman and Co. were thrilled and wrote Getzlaf's name on the official roster sheet before Monday's noon deadline. Getzlaf was relieved – and remains thankful that Team Canada's brain trust stuck with him.
"There was a few times during that week when I wondered if I'd be here," Getzlaf said Saturday afternoon following Team Canada's practice in preparation for Sunday's gold-medal game against Team USA. "And the main point is: It wasn't about convincing them that I need to be here. Steve made it pretty clear that he wanted me here, as did (Canadian coach) Mike (Babcock) and all their guys.
"It was about what was best for the team and for my team at home. Obviously, I would do anything to be on this team and I did anything to be on this team. So that's what that week was about."
Following Getzlaf's performance against Edmonton, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle marveled: "To think he would play in this game after reviewing the injury...it's just amazing. It was all up to him."
Getzlaf's teammate (and sometimes linemate) Bobby Ryan had admittedly mixed emotions. Ryan, of course, plays for Team USA.
"I mean, obviously, I’ve thanked Steve many times for being patient and being able to wait. I know that he had way more pressure on him than I did on me. So it’s a situation where Steve had faith in me and showed faith in me. And luckily enough, the ankle responded the way we wanted to and I was able to be here and not worry about it."
-- Ryan Getzlaf
It's not difficult to figure out why.
Getzlaf is a mountain of a man who plays the game with the kind of skill and speed that isn't fair in a 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame. He has utterly punished opposing defensemen on the forecheck in this tournament. He has barreled to the net and posted himself in front of opposing goaltenders in unstoppable fashion.
His 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) rank second on Team Canada -- and his backhander into the roof of the net from his knees Friday night turned out to be the game-winner in Canada's 3-2 escape over Slovakia in the semifinals.
NHL.com conducted an informal poll of prominent hockey writers covering the tournament. The question: If you were rooting for the Americans and could take one Canadian player out of the lineup, which would you choose? The almost unanimous choice: Ryan Getzlaf.
"He's played well and he's come on strong as of late," Ryan said. "And when Getzlaf hits his stride, he's one of the worst to play against and hardest to contain. So we've got our hands full with him tomorrow."
And to think: Team USA and the rest of the Olympic field was so close to avoiding Getzlaf's commanding presence altogether.
"It was a tough week," Getzlaf said. "There definitely were times when I didn't know if I was going to be here or not. But obviously, everything worked out and everything's been rolling properly since.
"I mean, obviously, I've thanked Steve many times for being patient and being able to wait. I know that he had way more pressure on him than I did on me. So it's a situation where Steve had faith in me and showed faith in me. And luckily enough, the ankle responded the way we wanted to and I was able to be here and not worry about it."