Yzerman relishes ‘great challenge’ of assembling Canada’s Olympic hockey team

 

Like it or not, Steve Yzerman will have the weight of a hockey-crazed nation on his shoulders for the next 16 months.

 
 
 
 
 

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OTTAWA — Like it or not, Steve Yzerman will have the weight of a hockey-crazed nation on his shoulders for the next 16 months.

That comes with the territory when you’ve been handed the job of putting together a Canadian Olympic hockey team.

Yzerman, the Detroit Red Wings legend who’s now vice-president of the NHL club, was officially introduced Saturday as executive director of the Canadian men’s team that will compete at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

“Whether the tournament was in Canada or not, the passion of Canadian fans is a positive thing for us,” Yzerman told reporters. “All we can do is make sure we’re prepared, make good decisions on our coaching staff and our team.

“The pressure of playing on home ice . . . players have got to learn a little bit how to play on home ice. I’ve been through it. The emotions, you have to keep that in check. But I’m not too worried about it.”

Yzerman, who was executive director of the Canadian teams that won gold and silver medals, respectively, at the 2007 and 2008 IIHF world championships, succeeds Wayne Gretzky as Olympic team executive director.

Gretzky, coach of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, will remain on as an adviser to the Olympic team and is part of a seasoned group of executives hired to help Yzerman put the team together.

NHL general managers Ken Holland (Detroit) and Kevin Lowe (Edmonton) have been enlisted as associate directors, and Doug Armstrong, assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues, has been named the Olympic team’s director of player personnel. Armstrong worked with Yzerman on the 2007 and 2008 world championship teams and both Lowe and Holland have extensive international experience on their resumes.

Yzerman said having Lowe and Gretzky, both with Olympic experience, on the staff will be invaluable.

“They can offer so much to us,” Yzerman said. “Ken, myself and Doug doing this for the first time, in management at the Olympics, every decision that they (Gretzky and Lowe) made — what worked for them, what didn’t work for them, in winning or losing — I thought it was vital to us to have that experience.”

So what are Canada’s chances for success in Vancouver?

“We have a great challenge ahead of us,” said Yzerman, who has represented Canada as a player eight times and won a gold medal at the 2002 Games at Salt Lake City. “There’s tremendous talent around the world and great hockey players in countries like Russia, Sweden and the United States, Finland . . . so by no means, because we’re playing on home ice, is any gold medal a lock.

“Our goal is, obviously, to win the gold medal. We’ll do everything we can do, as a group, to assemble an outstanding coaching staff and an outstanding team, and we look forward to getting to Vancouver in 2010.”
 
 
 
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