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Canadians bursting at the seams with leaders

by Dan Rosen
CALGARY -- Unprovoked, Canadian Olympic coach Mike Babcock threw Scott Niedermayer's name out as a potential captain for Team Canada after being asked specifically about Jarome Iginla and Sidney Crosby Monday.

"I think Scott Niedermayer has a pretty good shot at it, too," Babcock quipped.

When Niedermayer was asked about Babcock's quote Tuesday afternoon, the veteran defenseman and captain of the Anaheim Ducks, obviously flattered, took the stance that it doesn't mean a hill of beans right now.

"Any time you get a compliment you like it," Niedermayer said, "but I don't think (the captaincy) is anything we're really worried about now as players."

Nor should they be. But every hockey fan in Canada and member of the media present here in Calgary for the National Team's Orientation Camp has his or her idea of who is going to follow in Joe Sakic's footsteps and lead Canada into the Olympics as the captain.

Obviously Babcock has his favorite in mind, too, and for all he's done in his Hall of Fame career, Niedermayer would be not only the safe pick, but an easy selection.

Niedermayer already is the captain of his NHL team. He is one of only five Canadians in history to be a member of the Triple Gold Club (Stanley Cup champ, Olympic gold medalist and World Championship gold medalist). Neidermayer, who turns 36 next week, has League-wide respect and still very much appreciates the chance to wear the Canadian sweater.

In short, he gets it.

"There is going to be an environment and a climate that expects success and I think the guys that have been there before can help calm you down," Babcock said. "We're going to ask everybody on this team to lead in their own way, but in saying that I think the guys that have been there before can be a stabilizing force, much like it has been in the past."

Niedermayer, though, said he hasn't given any thought to being captain of this team. He also doesn't necessarily believe the captain has to be a veteran.

"There are a handful of choices that would work," he said. "I guess as an older player you like to think that experience does count for something, but I don't think necessarily you have to have that in a captain. If there are guys in the room that have been there before you could have someone to lean on and that's fine."

So if we can just go off the assumption that Niedermayer is the clubhouse leader, we naturally begin to wonder who are the guys nipping at his heals? With 10 players in camp that currently wear the "C" for their NHL teams there is no shortage of candidates.

Here are five to keep a close eye on:

Jarome Iginla -- The Calgary Flames' captain already is a two-time Olympian and, like Niedermayer, is respected League-wide. He is well spoken, which is a must for Canada's captain considering whoever it is will serve as the pseudo spokesperson for the dressing room.

Iginla has what Team Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman and Babcock are looking for in a leader. He went through the ups and downs in Salt Lake that ended with the Canadians winning gold for the first time in 50 years. Four years later, he experienced the disappointment in Torino.

"I look back on my own situation," Yzerman said. "In '98 we lost to the Czechs and lost the bronze medal game to the Finns. In 2002, when we got to the Olympics we were way more comfortable. We knew what to expect and it was just more comfortable. We got off to a poor start and plugged our way through it. Jarome has been in that situation. He's been through the good and he's been through the bad."

Sidney Crosby -- Even though we're talking about No. 87 here, the youngest captain to ever lift the Stanley Cup, we have to consider him a long shot. Yzerman and Babcock both said they want their leadership group to come from the veterans, which would essentially eliminate Crosby from the discussion.

"Veteran players will control the atmosphere in the locker room and we'll ask the young guys to come out and do their thing," Yzerman said.

Really, though, it's still too premature to cross Crosby off the list now because at 22, he has more experience and knowledge about how to handle pressure and the spotlight than people twice his age. Crosby played in eight playoff series over the past two seasons, the maximum number possible. Although he didn't play much after getting hurt in Game 7 at Detroit a few months back, Crosby rallied his teammates and led them from the bench as he sat there in agony. That showed his leadership.

It helps, too, that he's arguably the most visible player in Canada.

"He wasn't there in 2006, but the spotlight has been on him his entire life and I think he's used to that," Yzerman said. "The last two years of playoff experience have been fantastic for him and I've watched him develop as a player."

Chris Pronger -- Going back to the old school, Pronger is hoping to play in his fourth Olympic games. Only Martin Brodeur can say the same thing, though Brodeur did not see any ice time in 1998.

Pronger is not a captain now, only because he joined a team that already has a pretty good one in Mike Richards. He has worn the "C" in the past and, like Iginla and Niedermayer, fits right into the mold of what Babcock and Yzerman are probably looking for in a captain. Pronger's the only other member of the Triple Gold Club that in Calgary this week. He won the Cup in 2007, an Olympic gold in 2002 and the World Championship gold in 1997. He also won gold with Canada at the 1993 World Junior Championship.

"There is a lot of veteran leadership and a lot of young leaders here," Pronger said. "I think it's going to be a very good makeup and one of those teams, much like Salt Lake, where we had 20 leaders in the room all pulling in the same direction."

Mike Richards -- He's only 23 and would be a first-time Olympian, so we could just slot him into the fat-chance category, but we won't.

Richards is already the captain of his NHL team and a fine one at that. What's more is that he plays the type of game that exudes leadership and is the perfect example of a 200-foot player that Babcock talks about. Richards won the Memorial Cup with the Kitchener Rangers in 2003, was Canada's captain on its 2005 gold medal winning team at the 2005 World Junior Championship and later that year won the Calder Cup with the Philadelphia Phantoms in 2005. Still, we know he's very much a long shot.

Ryan Smyth -- He's already got the nickname. "Captain Canada," of course, is hoping to be back for more.

Smyth, 33, may be showing signs of wear and tear after 13 seasons, but if he has a solid start to the season in Los Angeles he could find his way onto the Olympic team for the third time.
And, if he does, he's as good a candidate as anyone to at least wear a letter on his sweater. There aren't too many others who can say they have "been there and done that" in the way that Smyth can.

He currently holds Team Canada's record for most games played in international competition at 78. He has been a part of the last two Olympic teams, taking home gold in 2002. He captained the Canadians at the World Championships from 2001-05, winning gold three times and one silver medal. He also won World Juniors gold in 1995.

"It's an honor to wear the Maple Leaf," Smyth said.

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