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Stauffer Stuff: December 15

by Bob Stauffer / Edmonton Oilers
How will Team Canada do this year?

After Canada finished out of the Medals back in the 1998 Winter Olympics -- which was the first year the games were played with professionals -- a National self-evaluation took place trying to figure what exactly was wrong with hockey in our country.

One of the things that came out of that exercise was the realization that Canada needed to ice their best players if they truly wanted to not only succeed but prevail in international tournaments.

If you recall, in the infinite wisdom of Team Canada GM Bobby Clarke, who was GM of the Philadelphia Flyers at the time, Eric Lindros was anointed Team Canada captain ahead of long-time Canadian leaders such as Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman and Ray Bourque.

Also, a career third/fourth liner like Rob Zamuner was surprisingly selected to the team ahead of a Hall-of-Famer like Mark Messier and one of the top puck-moving defencemen of that era, Scott Niedermayer, was not selected to that team either.

Since the underwhelming performance in ’98 Canada has pretty much lived by the adage win or lose with your best players when it has come to icing teams for the Olympics.

It worked in 2002 in Salt Lake and again in 2010 in Vancouver when Canada claimed Gold. When Canada deviated from that position in 2006 by not selecting emerging superstar Sidney Crosby, Canada got what it deserved, as they finished out of the Medals.

The World Junior Tournament means more to Canadians than any other Country on the planet. Canada has enjoyed tremendous success in the event, including twice having runs of five consecutive championships including as recently as 2005-2009.

It speaks volumes to Canada’s depth, because often some of our Country’s best players are overlooked.

Case in point: last year when a strong argument could be made that Hockey Canada blew it when they did not select the highly-skilled and poised Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the team.

Somehow Head Coach Dave Cameron and Head Scout Kevin Prendergast did not see the value in having RNH on the team instead going with a “heavier” less-talented squad that ultimately lacked skill and poise when the Russians pushed back in the third period of the Gold Medal final.

Today Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is in the top 10 in scoring in the best league in world with three times many points (32) as any of the centers that were or that team.

Clearly, at the next level, RNH has proven to be an infinitely superior skilled player to Ryan Johansen, Brayden Schenn or Sean Couturier.

Don’t get me wrong, Johansen, Schenn and Couturier are all going to be at least solid second-line centres in the NHL, but my expectation is that someone with the World Junior program should have recognized the special talent that Nugent-Hopkins is.

Yesterday, Canada named its 22-man roster for this year’s tournament and again some eyebrows are being raised with some of the selections.

I can’t imagine that Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman is very happy, as the ‘Hawks had not one but two 2011 first-round picks; Edmonton-area product Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault not make the team.

Personally, I was also stunned that defenceman Ryan Murphy a 2011 Carolina 1st round pick didn’t make the team either. Murphy excelled at U-18 Championship last April and has tremendous offensive upside.

In goal, Oilers 2010 fifth-round pick Tyler Bunz probably had the best season to date of any of the four goaltending hopefuls for Team Canada, but he did give up a weak goal against the Calgary-Lethbridge University team that was sold as the CIS All-Stars.

As one former NHL General Manager said to be after the announcement of the team, Canada has built a lunch-bucket dump and chase team and they definitely did not take all the best players.

Head Coach Don Hay has a history of getting the most out of his teams at high profile events as illustrated by the job he did with the 1995 World Junior team and the 2007 Memorial Cup which his Vancouver Giants hosted.

My hope is he pulls that off again here in Edmonton and in Calgary starting December 26th.

No question Canada will be competitive and they will have home ice advantage, just not sold that ultimately they will have the skill to get it done.

Bob Stauffer is the Colour Analyst on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Now” weekdays Noon to 2:00 PM on the Oilers Radio Rights Holder 630 CHED.


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