NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Snub can motivate St. Louis

Team Canada's big knife always delivers cruel cuts -- as squad GM Yzerman knows very well

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In dressing rooms all over the NHL there was joy and disappointment Tuesday following the announcement of Olympic rosters, but no team was hit harder with the realities of inclusion and exclusion than the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Steven Stamkos in all his blond and toothy glory stood smiling at the news of his impending trip to Russia. Martin St. Louis bunkered himself alone in a Winnipeg hotel room to wallow in his abandon.

Tuesday's announcement left a nation breathless and officially kicked off the angst and began the twisting of guts many will endure until Canada earns gold or doesn't.

The reality, however, is the announcement was more about hype than decisions. Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman could have changed more than a handful of names and still had just as strong a team.

Gold is no longer an expectation exclusive to Canada. The Czechs, Swedes, Finns, Russians and Americans will all have similar and realistic hopes.

Yzerman put together a team brimming with the speed of youth yet still forged by the heat of championships. Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews are young and experienced at the same time. They'll match any country's top duo. And they're not alone.

This team is deep and talented and worthy of a nation's support. But will it win? Certainly that is no longer a given as Canada has company at the top. And lots of it.

Winnipeg native and Blackhawks captain Toews admitted to relief upon hearing his name.

"It's a relief to have it off your shoulders. To play for this team is an honour and an accomplishment. To represent your country at the Olympic level is the ultimate," said Toews. "I haven't had any doubt but no one in their right mind would get ahead of themselves. Look at the names we left off this team. I'm ready for any role. Whether it's a captaincy or an assistant or not wearing a letter at all. There's more than enough leadership to go around."

Teammate Brent Seabrook, upon learning he wouldn't get the chance to add to the gold-medal collection he started four years ago in Vancouver, said he'd use the time to go on a trip and then grab a few beers and watch Team Canada try and win at the Olympics.

For the Lightning, however, the disparity between the fates of Stamkos and St. Louis cranked up the drama.

Stamkos broke his leg on Nov. 11 and only in the last week has resumed skating but was named to Team Canada in hopes that the deadliest one-time shot in hockey will be ready by mid-February.

St. Louis, who led the NHL in scoring last season and has 17 goals and 21 assists this campaign, has dragged the Lighting from obscurity to a playoff position while Stamkos rehabs. The thanks he gets for that? A snub from Team Canada led by his very own boss, Yzerman.

"Personally, it was a very difficult decision," Yzerman said. "Honestly, whether I'm with the Tampa Bay organization or not, it was a difficult one. It was a tough one in 2010 as well. He's a tremendous player who has played outstanding for us this year. Our team has a good record, our team is playing well."

Yzerman has now kept St. Louis off back-to-back Canadian Olympic rosters and if you think the GM of the Bolts and Team Canada isn't aware of the sting his player is feeling, you're wrong.

Yzerman was in his prime when Team Canada coach and GM Mike Keenan cut him in 1987 and 1991 during the days of the Canada Cup. Yzerman took those insults and used them to fuel the height of his career, including three Stanley Cups as captain of the Detroit Red Wings.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper is hoping St. Louis can have a similar reaction.

"Oh gosh. He's a human," Cooper said. "So I don't care if he's one year in the league or 20 years in the league, I'm sure he's extremely disappointed as we all are. But he's a pro and if there's one guy, unfortunately, that can handle it, it's Marty. Knowing Marty, this is probably going to motivate the snot out of him."

Stamkos stood and gave the obligatory "it's an honour" quote before turning his attention to his teammate.

"It was a little emotional when he got the news," Stamkos said. "It's tough. I don't know what more you can do or expect from him to be able to make this team. For me, it's tough to see Marty as upset as he was. We really need him on (the Lighting)," Stamkos said. "He's been carrying the load. He's our leader. It's just tough to be with him during this time. But he's a warrior, he's a competitor, he's going to come out stronger in the end."

Keeping St. Louis would have been the easiest thing for Yzerman. His star would have been happy and Team Canada arguably wouldn't have been worse off.

"That's right. We would have been just as good with Marty on the team. But Steve did what he thought was best for the country," said Canadian selection committee member and Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. "It sounds corny but Steve is that kind of person."

So too it seems is St. Louis. He blew off the morning skate to get his thoughts together then came out and did what he has been doing for some time and led his Lightning, scoring the winner against the Winnipeg Jets.

"I'm happy we got the win. For Team Canada, you can't imagine how I feel. I'm extremely disappointed and I'll just leave it at that," said St. Louis.

As the Lightning poured off the ice, they shouted "Marty," to salute their teammate and the ultimate professionalism that led him to score the winner on the same day he was dealt the coldest of news.

Maybe there isn't room on Yzerman's Canadian team for St. Louis. But without him, the team in Tampa is not one at all.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Where did the selection committee go right in naming the team? Where did they go wrong? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 8, 2014 D1

History

Updated on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at 6:57 AM CST: adds video

7:16 AM: adds video

7:43 AM: Adds photo

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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