-- Steve Yzerman
still looked spiffy in his black suit with the vest underneath and the knot of his tie tightly pulled up to his neck. On the exterior, Yzerman was a portrait of calm during his post-gold medal game press conference Sunday afternoon at Canada Hockey Place. Inside, he was bursting.
"It's an incredible relief," Yzerman said after the team of NHL stars he agonized over for months received their gold medals. "In October 2008 we became a staff and began our preparations. And we've been thinking about this day and dreaming about it daily for 18 months or whatever it's been. It's an incredible relief when our goal was just to win."
Yzerman didn't like talking about the pressure he was under, that Team Canada was under in these Olympics in the months, weeks and eventually days leading up to the Olympics. When they got into the cooker and faced adversity, he remained composed and never felt the need to deliver a Wayne Gretzky
-like Canada against the world speech.
"I've never experienced anything like this as a player. Showing up in Vancouver two weeks ago and being around the city, with everyone being in Canada gear, it's been a really rewarding and tremendous experience. Nothing beats being a player and being out on the ice and competing, but this has been something I guess every bit as rewarding. I can't say it was enjoyable, but it was rewarding, for sure."
-- Steve Yzerman
Finally on Sunday, however, after Sidney Crosby
scored the gold medal-winning goal 7:40 into overtime to beat Team USA, 3-2, and finish off what arguably was one of the top-five hockey games of all time, Yzerman showed his cards for the world to see.
He knew all along that this was a win-or-else tournament for Canada, and that made Crosby's goal so gratifying. Yzerman, second-guessed by an entire nation of GMs for many of his decisions, was vindicated.
"Regardless of how well we played, we had to win," Yzerman said. "It's a great relief."
Yzerman started evaluating players as soon as Hockey Canada tabbed him as the Executive Director.
He already knew what the still-outstanding players from his generation, like Scott Niedermayer
, Chris Pronger
, Jarome Iginla
and Martin Brodeur
could offer this team. Robert Luongo was an obvious pick, too.
He eventually realized that if he was going to take Dany Heatley
and Patrick Marleau
, well, it was only natural to take Joe Thornton
, too. Dan Boyle
and Brenden Morrow
were familiar faces and solid players, so Yzerman gravitated to them, as well.
However, early in the evaluation process Yzerman learned that no matter what, Canada was going to bring a young team to the Olympics. The only way to win gold was to bring a fast and ferocious group, and as we found out, young legs were required to keep up in Sunday's breathtaking and intense finale.
Crosby was a no-brainer. Ryan Getzlaf
probably was, too. Rick Nash
had been in the Olympics before, in 2006, so as long as he was on his game he always would be on Yzerman's short list as well.
Then, out of a pile of skill and talent, emerged the rest of the team. Half of the players were 25 years old or younger.
and Mike Richards
were tabbed because of their two-way games. Corey Perry
made it because of his size, skill and chemistry with Getzlaf. Patrice Bergeron
was added for his penalty killing and faceoff percentage.
After watching Duncan Keith
and Brent Seabrook
rip it up with the Blackhawks for two seasons, both defensemen became too hard to ignore. Ditto for Shea Weber
, who might have the scariest slap shot in the NHL.
was an easy pick, but Drew Doughty
was not because of his age and inexperience. Yzerman took a gamble on the 20-year-old Kings defenseman and it paid off in a huge way. Doughty showed the rest of the world what hockey insiders already know -- that he's Canada's next Niedermayer.
made it as the third goalie coming off his Stanley Cup run.
"There's that whole group of players with '84 and '85 birthdays that had success at the World Junior level and then they won Stanley Cups," Yzerman said. "When we put the group together and started to watch players, they continued to play well. I just felt like we couldn't ignore them. In some cases you're hesitant to bring a young guy with no experience; well, these guys have experience at every level."
The team's overall experience in big games, Yzerman said, enabled it to handle the unrelenting pressure it was under to win gold on home ice. And when they did, Yzerman finally allowed himself to enjoy it.
"I've never experienced anything like this as a player," he said. "Showing up in Vancouver two weeks ago and being around the city, with everyone being in Canada gear, it's been a really rewarding and tremendous experience. Nothing beats being a player and being out on the ice and competing, but this has been something I guess every bit as rewarding. I can't say it was enjoyable, but it was rewarding, for sure."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.