While working with Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland in putting together Canada's team for the 2006 World Championships, we correctly ascertained two things: i) it would be unlikely that we'd get many, if any players from the team that represented Canada at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy last February. They were simply going to be out of gas, both physically and mentally; and ii) there would be extensive injuries and exhaustion incurred by the remaining non-Olympic players after they were faced with a compressed NHL schedule following the Olympics. By example, most NHL teams played every second night from February to early April. The wear and tear was inevitable and consequently the declines to our invitations to join Team Canada in Latvia were not unexpected. We ended up with no Olympians and the absence of dozens of other NHL stars who have represented Canada at this tournament before.
Going over potential candidates for Team Canada from those NHL teams that were eliminated from the playoffs led us to the realization that we were going to be very young. But it also led us quickly to believe that we could be very quick and very enthusiastic...kids who wanted to go for a Gold medal while wearing their national team's jersey. Before Brendan Shanahan kindly accepted our invitation to come over and act as Captain, the average age on this team was barely 23. As the acceptances came in, and we began to see the entire roster form up, one very important element of this group became apparent. Not only were they young and hungry, they had all experienced their share of winning major championships early in their careers.
The Canadian roster that will take on the reigning Olympic Gold medal champions from Sweden have collectively won 40 major events, many internationally, including World Juniors, World Under-18, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups, CHL Championships, and World Championships. As this youthful group looks around their dressing room tomorrow night at 7:45 p.m., they'll garner great confidence in knowing that the guy on each side of them has paid the price before to come out a winner. And we all know that winning promotes more winning. That's why every NHL team always looks to have personnel in their organization, on and off the ice, that have been part of a Stanley Cup Champion team.
With Team USA and Team Russia both eliminated from this year's tournament on Thursday night, it's now down to four teams: Canada, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic. Three of the teams will win medals...but only one will win the gold. The winner of Czech-Finn game plays the winner of Canada-Sweden contest. Then we all go home. I'm sure that the players on all four teams are sitting in their hotels rooms today thinking the same thought: "Win six periods and we have the Gold medal."
If only it was that easy! Last night's game between the Czechs and Russia went to overtime. It was an incredibly fast paced game from start to finish. Clearly the urgency and level of passion has been raised and will go up another notch tomorrow night. The fans were into it, the NHL scouts in the stands watching their prospects were into it, and the sold out arena reminded us of the noise level at the old Chicago Stadium in the Bobby Hull days! Sunday's Gold Medal game will be seen in Europe by a record 125 million viewers and there are 22 networks from different countries covering the game live. Needless to say, you don't need to ask me if we'd like to be one of the two teams!! But first it's Sweden, one period at a time.