Mike Brophy - Tuesday Jan. 7, 2014 15:38 ET

Q&A: Steve Yzerman understands pressure of winning Olympic gold

Stamkos's health 1 of Canada's key concerns

Executive director Steve Yzerman, left, and head coach Mike Babcock react to the naming of the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team Tuesday in Toronto. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)
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If Team Canada wins the gold medal in men’s hockey in Sochi, Sidney Crosby will likely go down in history as the face of the team.

If Canada loses, the dubious honour, such as it may be, will probably fall to Steve Yzerman.

That’s the way it goes when you are put in charge of selecting a team for which nothing less than a gold medal is expected. And while Yzerman had lots of help putting together Team Canada, make no mistake about it, this is his hockey team.

After naming his team, Yzerman met with the media:

Q: Is it fair to say you had the toughest job here?

A: It’s a difficult job for us all. We put together a pretty good management group of very experienced and accomplished guys that I have tremendous respect for. With that group and our coaching staff, we discussed every decision and heard everybody’s viewpoint.

Q: Is this a different kind of pressure because of the expectation this country has for its hockey team?

A: You know, we’re going to play a hockey tournament. As a player, I enjoyed the competition. I recognized how hard it is. You do your best and you hope for the best. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. We’re going over there to win. I just don’t worry about the pressure. You prepare your best. The players will prepare and the coaches will prepare, and then you go out and play. Whether it’s the Olympics or Stanley Cup final or you’re announcing a team or at the draft or making a trade, you go through the process. You do your job and hope everything works out. I tune out everything around us.

Q: Was having Olympic experience a big part of the equation when selecting the team?

A: Everything played a factor; experience, position, left shot, right shot. We feel it is very important to have experience and I believe there are 11 players that played for us in Vancouver on this team. We have numerous multiple Stanley Cup winners. So yes, experience was a real factor.

Q: Many of these players are used to pressure, but is there something different about the pressure of carrying an entire country on your back?

A: I believe there is. When you play for your respective team, you’re representing your city and your fan base. For an entire country there is more emotion to it. These guys are used to it; the guys who played in the Olympics in Vancouver, it will be a great advantage for them.

Stamkos still progressing

Q: Can you give us an update on Steven Stamkos, who broke his leg Nov. 11?

A: We’re going to take it one step at a time as far as what our decision will be. Today we had to announce 25 players. If he is healthy he is one of the 25 best players, obviously, in Canada, and should be on the team. What we couldn’t do was name 24 players and wait and see before naming a 25th. If we didn’t name him today and nobody was injured between now and then, we wouldn’t have been able to announce it later.

Q: P.K. Subban seemed to be on the bubble for some time; was there ever any doubt from the selection committee about him?

A: Whether it is the goaltender, right defence, left defence; we had some difficult decisions to make. This isn’t about any one individual. We had hard decisions to make because, we have so many tremendous players to choose from.

Q: Can you explain how left winger Chris Kunitz won you over?

A: We’re all in agreement about the type of team we want and the type of players we want. Chris Kunitz has been an outstanding player throughout his career; a Stanley Cup champion. He played for me in the 2008 world championship and was a very good player on that team. He is a hard-nosed player; a skilled player. Yes he plays with Sidney Crosby and he has been a great contributor not only to that line, but to his team, be it five-on-five and the power play. The question a lot of people ask is Chris Kunitz being helped by Sidney Crosby? They help each other. Ultimately we asked ourselves if, on his own, does he belong on this team? Our answer was yes.

Q: What teams are you most worried about at the Olympics?

A: Every one…honestly. We went to the world championship last time and it was the first time we played Slovenia. They played a heck of a game. It was a very competitive game and we felt we had a very good team. These countries are all improving.

Q: How does this team have to play to be successful?

A: You don’t have a lot of time to prepare so you won’t see a brand new system or something shocking. It’s important to skate. The team has to play fast. Skating is important without the red line and on the big ice surface.

Q: Can you have success without winning gold?

A: [Yzerman laughs] I was a part of the 1998 [Nagano] team that played extremely well and lost the semifinal in a shootout. I thought we had a really good team. We want to win gold; that is our goal. But in saying that, we cannot say it arrogantly. That is our goal, but we have to recognize how hard it is. We just watched the world juniors and these countries are all very good. They are all getting better. It is hard to win. Our goal is gold and there is no question everyone in Canada will be disappointed if we don’t win, but we can’t go in there thinking it is our God-given right to win. We’ll have to play our best and, honestly, get a little bit lucky.

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