Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canada comes to standstill

Eyes, ears of nation tuned into Saskatoon as team announced

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SASKATOON -- Boy, we're a bunch of dyed-in-the-wool-tuqued hosers.Call a press conference to announce the Olympic national men's hockey team and the country stands still. In all, a total of 13 television networks cut away to carry the breathless news live.

The scene could have been mistaken for a G-7 news summit, what with a table of stern-faced Team Canada executive members on a stage lit for the phalanx of cameras there to record the event for posterity. That's right, it took eight guys to announce 23 players.

"This," intoned Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson, "is the day every Canadian has been waiting for."

And in true Canadian fashion, all went down in a makeshift beer garden, smack dab in the middle of a frozen land where hundreds of locals -- many clad in hockey jerseys, naturally -- hooted and hollered as the names of the 23 Chosen Ones were announced to an enraptured public.

Beauty, eh?

Of course, not only was Team Canada's unveiling far from the end of the process -- that won't happen until the final horn blows in Vancouver in February -- but it was even further from the beginning.

After all, the announcement in Saskatoon on Wednesday was preceded by 18 months of consternation and often heated public debate. And that's not forgetting the exhaustive due diligence of Steve Yzerman and Co., the executive committee that dissected, discussed, analyzed and agonized over the ultimate makeup of the final roster.

Think about it: The United States of America debated and instituted an overhaul of their national health care system in less time than it took to decide the 13th forward on Team Canada.

In fact, after it was all over you half expected to see a plume of white smoke emanating from the building.

"It's been a very enjoyable process, but a difficult one," Yzerman explained to the awaiting masses. "We spent hours and hours debating every decision. We feel we have a team that will make every Canadian proud."

Well, let's just hold onto that thought until the gold-medal game in Vancouver.

After all, despite the pomp and circumstance of Wednesday, let us not forget that 2010 will represent Team Canada's fourth crack at Olympic gold -- at least, in the current form that involves the very best skaters in production. And while the Salt Lake Games in 2002 was a cause for national celebration (seventh heaven), following the shootout debacle in Nagano in 1998 (What?!! No Gretzky!!?), the last Olympic journey to Turin ended in what could only be remembered as, well, forgettable (seventh place).

But this being Canada, we roll up our parka sleeves and begin to work anew. If Adam Foote and Todd Bertuzzi (wince) couldn't get it done in Italy, we trust that Duncan Keith and Sidney Crosby can do the job in British Columbia.

As is often the cause, our inclination will probably lean towards a fear of failure rather than the entitlement of success. When it comes to hockey, that's just how we roll in the Great White Knuckle North.

However, as in every Olympics, the difference between celebration and national tragedy will be as razor thin as a skate blade's cutting edge.

"We're all going to be talented," Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock offered, when asked Wednesday about the global competition expected from the Russians and Swedes, to name just a couple.

"You look at every roster and try to picture what they're going to be like, and they all scare you to death. But I think when they look at our team they're probably going to think we're pretty good, too."

So it's time to pass the torch to the Getzlafs, Perrys, Bergerons and Doughtys. It's time to cross our shivering fingers that the San Jose Sharks trio of Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau -- who only a few months ago were being written off for failing to win another Stanley Cup -- can rise to the Olympian task ahead.

And we only hope that those bow legs of Chris Pronger can muster the required jam, at age 35, to strike fear -- or at least an elbow -- into the hearts of the Teemu Selannes and Alex Ovechkins of the world who would dare to crash the party.

But if you think many of our countrymen and women were transfixed by the act of just naming Team Canada on paper Wednesday, just imagine the angst and ecstasy when the Chosen Ones assemble on the ice for real in February.

Only in Canada.

God save the Queen... as long as Marty Brodeur saves the rest.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2009 C4

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.


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