by Kate Shefte
Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman had one of the luckiest and yet least enviable jobs this year in picking a hockey team from Canada’s bottomless pool of talent for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Every analyst on the web had his or her take, and it wasn’t looking good for Carolina star center Eric Staal, who was edged off of most lists. An early, lengthy injury the year of the Olympics is often the kiss of death for anyone but the top ten players in the NHL – it certainly didn’t help Cam Ward, though the term “long shot” doesn’t begin to cover it – but Staal received that coveted phone call this morning telling him he would be representing the host country in Vancouver this February.
Staal is an obvious choice, but he wasn’t exactly a given. He was selected over perennial Olympians Shane Doan, Ryan Smyth and Brad Richards. Doan has had a better statistical season as captain of the Phoenix Coyotes (in more games) and both he and Smyth have helped their teams surge forward into the standings after a long postseason drought. Neither have recent playoff experience and Staal’s performance in Carolina’s recent playoff runs probably showed Yzerman and Co. that he has the ability to play under pressure. Not that the others don’t. Agh – like I said, the last few weeks must have been tough for Yzerman.
Young guns Patrick Sharp, Vincent Lecavalier and Jeff Carter were also left off the list after amassing more points than Staal through the first half of the season.
No one here is complaining. It’s a tremendous honor to send a player to the biggest international event of the year and it sure does make Staal’s mammoth contract look worth it. In addition, it could have positive repercussions for the last-place ‘Canes from here on out. But it is a little unexpected. All in question have international playing experience and ridiculously exceptional talent, but one of the determining factors had to have been postseason play.
Staal was more animated than usual after practice today, and for good reason: http://www.nhl.com/ice/podcastplayer.htm?pid=290&iid=18584&navid=DL|NHL|home
And now for the blue and white elephant in the locker room: how on earth was Jussi Jokinen left off the roster for Team Finland? Tuomo Ruutu and Joni Pitkanen earned bids, but Jokinen – if not best then second-best shootout man in the world and playoff clutch goal extraordinaire – was passed over for two guys who aren’t even in the NHL this season. I have to think there was some sort of typo or miscommunication on the parts of the coordinators. Jokinen isn’t a household name, though it’s a matter of time. Just look how he’s played over the last few weeks. However, his omission is a glaring and unexpected oversight.
Jokinen was informed of the snub three days ago, but it obviously didn't affect his play. In retrospect, his three-point night against Washington sent a "great decision, guys" -esque message loud and clear. Should one of his countrymen go down with an injury over the next month, Jokinen could still find his way on a plane to Vancouver.
The Finns cashed in on brotherly ties this year, selecting both the Ruutu and Koivu brothers for its Vancouver line-up. The overhyped Jarko Ruutu instead of Jokinen? (Insert biting-related jab here. My submission – Team Finland must have seen the need for a trash-talking, slew-footing nutcracker more than a proven shootout specialist. But I’m sure you can do better.)
Still waiting to hear Tim Gleason’s Team USA fate, which will be announced Jan. 1. Carolina fans can pretty much universally agree that he’s earned it this year. Realistically, what are his chances of cracking the roster? Did Staal deserve the nod? Let us know.