"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.
Jonathan Toews 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.
Eric Staal 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.
Marc-Andre Fleury 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."