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Tim Wharnsby - Monday Feb. 10, 2014 17:22

Steve Yzerman defends NHL participation in Olympics

Don't judge Canadian success solely on hockey result

Corey Perry and Chris Kunitz
Corey Perry and Chris Kunitz share a laugh in Team Canada's first practice in Sochi. Soon it will be all business. (Bruce Bennett/Getty)

SOCHI – A couple hours after Steve Yzerman argued the success of the entire Canadian Olympic team doesn’t hinge on the whether or not men’s hockey team wins, Alex Bilodeau successfully defended his gold in freestyle skiing moguls and his teammate Mikael Kingsbury won silver.

“I think it’s unfair to the rest of the Canadian Olympic team,” said the Canadian men’s hockey executive director a few hours after his arrival in Sochi.

“For Canadian hockey players, both men and women – and I was a player at one point – it was an honour and very exciting to be a part of the Canadian Olympic team, to be around athletes from all their sports, to sit in the village and watch a Canadian athlete come in with a gold medal and be able to see it, and talk to them, and see the joy on their face.

“So I want people to understand, our players are respectful of all of the other athletes here, and are proud to be part of the Canadian Olympic team. We want to win a gold medal, much like every other athlete.

“We can only do our part and hopefully bring home a gold medal. For every Canadian athlete, they’ve been training their entire life for this and I think it’s unfair that we detract from any of their accomplishments, regardless of what happens with our hockey team.”

Yzerman wasn’t blowing smoke, trying to take the pressure off his all-star club. He honestly feels this way. This is his fourth Olympic experience after the 1998 and 2002 Winter Games as a player and 2010 as a manager. He has been swept up in the Olympic spirit. He knows what it’s like to be part of a bigger team.

He went further on this point when he was asked if the NHL’s participation is good for the league. There has been plenty of speculation that this Olympic Games will be it because in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea won’t be worth it.

“My opinion is yes, absolutely,” he said. “I think this is fantastic for our league. We go back to the last year, and even beyond that, how much attention this draws, how much conversation this draws. Not only in Canada, but around the world. It promotes our league. It promotes our players. I believe it’s good for our game. I believe it’s good for the NHL.

“It’s once every four years. I’m hopeful we can continue and go to Korea. I understand there are challenges for our league and things we’d like to improve upon with the NHL’s relationship with the IIHF, the IOC."

Fast start

The Canadian Olympic team already has won three gold medals, three silvers and a bronze in the first three days and is on a fast track for yet another brilliant Winter Games. I’ve watched hardened broadcast and print news journalists clap and cheer at a good Canadian showing this week.

I must admit I got a little caught up on Monday, too. I stopped by the Iceberg Sports Palace and happened to catch Charles Hamelin skate a brilliant race to win gold in the 1,500-metre short-track speed skating event. I almost cheered.

There is something about the Olympics. Maybe even that Hockey Night in Canada grump Glenn Healy will catch the it while he's here.

The Canadian Olympic team doesn’t need a gold medal from the men’s hockey team. But that doesn’t mean it takes the heat off the $160-million men, the team’s total salary if you add up the pay cheques of the 25-player roster.

The men’s hockey team wants to win because since the NHL’s participation, Canada has not won outside North America and no team has won back-to-back Olympic titles. That’s the motivation for Crosby and Co. this time around.

“Do we have more pressure than Russia,” Ryan Getzlaf said repeating a reporter’s question. “We have just as much pressure from back home. We have even more pressure inside our dressing room.”

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