"I'm excited to be there and to get the opportunity to represent the country. There has been a big build up to it and it's nice to be named"
-- Mike Richards
NEW YORK -- A mere 30 minutes before Executive Director Steve Yzerman
officially unveiled the roster for Team Canada's 2010 entry into the Vancouver Olympics, the Flyers' Mike Richards
and Chris Pronger
sat comfortably in the visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden.
If they knew they were being named to the team Wednesday morning, they did a good job keeping the secret.
"You'll know before we know," Pronger told reporters.
A little bit past noon, it became official – Richards was named to his first Olympic team; Pronger to his fourth.
"I'm excited to be there and to get the opportunity to represent the country," Richards said Richards, a native of Kenora, Ontario. "There has been a big build up to it and it's nice to be named."
"It's never old. It never gets old," said Pronger, who will be an alternate captain for Team Canada. "It's always an honor to represent your country and have an opportunity to win a gold medal."
And they will have a chance to do so on home soil. Talk about a burden and a blessing. Sure, Pronger and Richards will get the chance to win gold in front of a frenzied, hockey-loving, nation. But they will also have the overwhelming pressure of having to win gold in front of a frenzied, hockey-loving nation.
Anything less than gold, and it's guaranteed to be a monumental disappointment.
"I think it's both. It's more exciting, it's a lot more pressure," Pronger said of the double-edged sword of the Olympics taking place in Canada. "But Salt Lake was a lot of pressure as well, as was Turin, and Nagano being the first one (with NHL players).
This is new territory for Richards. The 24-year-old Flyers captain has played in just one World Championship, in 2006. He had 3 goals and 2 assists in six games, but Canada suffered a 5-4 loss to Sweden before being blanked 5-0 by Finland in the bronze-medal game.
He leads the Flyers in scoring this season with 16 goals and 31 points in 38 games, and was quick to admit how surprised he was to be named to the team.
"It probably won't hit me till I get there," said Richards. "This afternoon was a little bit crazy. I think I got a text message or a call from pretty much everybody in my phone book, and probably a dozen people who I didn't."
Pronger, who was part of the Canadian team in 2002 that ended a 50-year drought without a gold medal, likes the roster that Yzerman has put together.
"It's got a good mix of veterans and youth, some guys have been around and played on teams in '06 or '02," said Pronger, a native of Dryden, Ontario. "Certainly experience is going to be an important factor in the tournament. I think the biggest thing for us as a group and as a team is playing to win, not worrying about losing. Just play to win and let the chips fall where they may."
One advantage of hosting the Olympics is the games will be played on the smaller North American ice surface. But Pronger doesn't think the edge matters as much with so many Europeans playing in the NHL.
"I would imagine so," Pronger said when asked if playing on the smaller surface gives Canada an edge, "but a majority of those players now play on this sized surface anyway. How much of an advantage it is, I don't know. It might suit our game a little bit more, but at the end of the day, a majority of the players are all playing on that surface for a bulk of the games."
Now that all the speculation is over about who will make the team and who won't, the eyes of Canada will be focused on the 23 men who will don the red maple leaf in February.
And Pronger knows it.
"Obviously with Canadian hockey there's a lot of pressure put on winning, and rightfully so," Pronger said. "We've obviously got some pretty good teams to contend with, and that makes it tougher. It's such a short period and the best of the best of all the countries competing for one prize – a gold medal. It makes for an interesting tournament and lot can happen over two weeks."