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McCabe Alternate for Team Canada

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

December 21, 2005

(CP) -- No surprises.

There was no Eric Brewer (2002) or Rob Zamuner (1998) on this Olympic team. No name that jumped out at you.

And that's a good thing.

Brewer was terrific in Salt Lake City but was a stunning inclusion to the team four years ago given his inexperience at the time. He was a risk.

This time all 23 players announced on Canada's Olympic team Wednesday were projected to be there. They're safe picks.

They're safe because 20 of them played on either the 2002 Olympic team or the 2004 World Cup squad _ best-on-best competition, the ultimate pressure test.

The three newcomers to such competition are Rick Nash, Todd Bertuzzi and Marty Turco.

Some people will question the inclusion of Nash because of his injury-riddled season. Fact is, anyone who happened to be in Austria last May at the IIHF world championship knows exactly why he was picked. His jaw-dropping skills, from the blue-line in, are unparalleled on the Canadian team.

Between Wednesday's announcement and the Feb. 15 Olympic opener against Italy, Nash will have played 25 games during that stretch -- plenty of time to get his game where he needs it.

Bertuzzi's issues are well-documented but the truth is that he should have been in Salt Lake City and would have been at the World Cup had he not been suspended by the NHL. It says here he'll be a huge factor in Turin.

As for Turco, he's having a better season than Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo and was a no-brainer as the third goalie. Some people think he should start in Turin, but that won't happen.

Olympic boss Wayne Gretzky obviously loves his power forwards, strange considering he wasn't one. But there's plenty of size and strength up front -- Nash, Bertuzzi, Shane Doan, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla and Joe Thornton. The six forwards average 6-3 and 220 pounds.

Down the middle, no country in the world can match Canada. Thornton, captain Joe Sakic and Vincent Lecavalier give the Canadians a 1-2-3 punch as good as this country has ever had in any tournament.

Kris Draper has struggled this season and some didn't think he should make the team. By the time the Olympics will be around, he'll be fine. He's the best penalty killer in the NHL and showed his worth at the World Cup as well as shutting down Peter Forsberg at the 2003 IIHF world championship en route to helping Canada win gold.

He also played wing instead of his natural centre at the Olympic camp in Kelowna, B.C., last August, and looked good doing it. That kind of versatility is huge.

Others may question Ryan Smyth being on the team. They would be foolish for doing so. He's nicknamed Captain Canada because he's always the answered the call. His international experience -- seven world championships, one Olympics, one World Cup -- is immeasurable. He'll know to tell his teammates not to panic if Italy proves frustrating in the first period Feb. 15, he's played against them a few times to know. And his gritty grinding style is a welcome addition on a team full of pure goal-scorers and playmakers. When the pretty plays weren't there at Salt Lake City, it was Smyth who worked the corners, crashed the net and created chances the old-fashioned way.

Defenceman Adam Foote may not have been on the Olympic team of some Canadian fans, but he was automatic once Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman begged off. The leadership void those two superstars leave behind still won't be fully filled, but the 34-year-old Foote is a must. He's been there for Canada in every big tournament since the 1996 World Cup and his locker-room presence will be key.

The taxi squad is loaded. Super young centre Jason Spezza and Eric Staal will be chomping at the bit if there's an injury up front  -- and there surely will be -- and top-scoring defenceman Bryan McCabe is a nice insurance policy especially if something happens to Rob Blake or Scott Niedermayer -- Canada's top power-play pairing.

Not on the list is 18-year-old phenom Sidney Crosby, and that's through no fault of his own. He's been everything as advertised this season, but this kind of invitation was a little too early for him. He'll take the world by storm in Vancouver in 2010.

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