There's no doubt that Steve Yzerman
was a winner during his playing days with the Detroit Red Wings
Now, he gets to show his skills in the front office with Team Canada.
Yzerman, who won three Stanley Cup championships with the Red Wings during his career and another as the team's vice president last season, will expand his executive talents in a big way after being named executive director of Team Canada for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Indeed, there will be pressure on Yzerman to lead Canada to a gold medal on its own soil. Yzerman helped his country win the tournament in 2002 in Salt Lake City.
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"I'm really excited about the opportunity," Yzerman said on Saturday during a conference call with the media. "I would stress to everyone what a great challenge we have ahead of us. There's tremendous talent around the world. By no means because we're playing on home ice is any gold medal a lock. Our goal, obviously, is to win the gold medal. We'll do everything we can as a group to assemble an outstanding coaching staff and an outstanding team."
Yzerman already has a staff in place that should have all of his fellow countrymen feeling confident. His assistants will be Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland, Edmonton Oilers President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe and St. Louis Blues Assistant GM Doug Armstrong.
Yzerman is extremely pleased to have Lowe on board, as the former Oilers GM has previous experience on Team Canada's executive staff. As a whole, though, there is plenty of experience for Yzerman to lean on as he puts his team together. The roster is expected to be announced in December of 2009, about two months before the Olympics get underway.
"I just think they can offer so much to us," Yzerman said. "With Ken, myself and Doug kind of doing this for the first time, every decision that they made … I thought it was vital to us that you can't have too much experience. It's very important."
Lowe admitted that he wouldn't have accepted the position had his duties in Edmonton not changed over the summer. But since it has, he now has the time to help Yzerman in any way he can.
"It's a fabulous honor to be asked once again, but if I had been in a similar position I probably wouldn’t have done it," Lowe said. "This position certainly gives me more time to give to this program."
Yzerman takes over for Wayne Gretzky, who held the position for the 2002 and 2006 Olympics. Gretzky will remain involved in an advisory role with Team Canada, but wanted to direct his full attention to coaching the Phoenix Coyotes.
"It's Stevie's team," Gretzky told the Ottawa Sun this week. "It's going to be his staff. It's going to be his coaches and his players. This is definitely handing the reins over. This is not my team."
Yzerman, one of the NHL's all-time top players, is in his third season with the Wings' front office and has international hockey experience as an executive. He has served as Canada's GM at the last two World Championships. Those teams produced a combined 17-1 record and won the 2007 gold medal and the silver in 2008.
Being around an annual contender in Detroit -- both as a player and an executive -- should be invaluable to Yzerman during this process. He believes this position will be beneficial to both Detroit and Team Canada.
"With the Red Wings, I'm free to make my own schedule," Yzerman said. "I kind of bounce around to every department. I try to get out and see our players and our minor-league team. My schedule is flexible. This gives us another opportunity to go and assess players. Being here and participating, you learn a lot about players and people around the League. You gather so much information. It's a good thing for the Detroit Red Wings, and hopefully it'll be a good thing for the Canadian National Team."
Holland, who has known Yzerman for more than 20 years, believes Yzerman's time has come.
"Steve and I joined the Red Wings in the early 80s, and Steve's just a natural born leader," Holland said. "He's got a passion for the game. He's a competitor. He's got tremendous international experience as a player. When Steve walks into the locker room, he's been in that same situation as the players of the team. He's been there. He was there in 2002 in Salt Lake City. I think for a whole lot of different reasons, Steve's the perfect man for the job."
That doesn't mean that Holland won't be heavily involved, though. While his main focus will always be his day-to-day duties with the Red Wings, Holland is committed to helping Yzerman bring the gold back to Canada. Holland said on Saturday that Detroit ownership is understanding of what the two are trying to accomplish for their country.
"Steve and I talked to Mr. Ilitch," Holland said. "Steve and I understand that there's a time commitment, and I'm looking forward to the challenge. I know that the Red Wings pay my job, but I'm a Canadian. I'm going to give my heart and soul to the team. If I've got to work longer days and longer hours, so be it. It's an opportunity of a lifetime for all of us."
For those who are eager to see who will be behind the bench in Vancouver in 2010 will have to wait a while. Yzerman said the coaching staff likely won't be named until the conclusion of the 2008-09 season.
"Let's let this season play itself out," Yzerman said. "Like we're going to evaluate players, I think in some ways we're going to evaluate coaches. I think we'll wait until the season ends and elect our coaching staff. Having said that, if we get the right group and if we're comfortable with the people and we determine beforehand and the timing is right, then we'd be prepared to announce it prior to the end of the season. Right now, we're leaning towards the season to finish."
Once the coaching staff is in place, Yzerman will have to decide which players will get to wear the Canadian sweater on Canadian soil. On Saturday, he stressed the importance of selecting solid two-way players.
"Stanley Cup winners aren't necessarily all offense or all defense," Yzerman said. "We should be strong in both ends of the rink. We want to have a good, all-around, complete team. We're as skilled as any country in hockey, and that will be stressed."