Sunday, October 19, 2008

Stevie Y becomes Stevie Olympics

By Rick Morris

Congratulations to my all-time favorite athlete, Steve Yzerman, for being named the executive director of Team Canada for the 2010 Olympic hockey competition. I'm as red, white and blue as they come, but I'll have no problem pulling for Canada in any game that doesn't involve the US of A.

This proud warrior has just been handed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, inasmuch as Canada will be trying to regain the gold medal on their own soil in Vancouver in 2010 (which is less than a year-and-a-half away -- it's really crept up on us). I said it before in my tribute that I wrote upon his retirement (scroll down to July 4 on this page for the column) that he was the reason I became a hockey fan in the first place, long before he ever hoisted his first Stanley Cup. His leadership skills, although somewhat invisible in front of the cameras because of his low-key style, were fierce. He is easily one of the five most respected players in the recent history of the game -- and he was long before he led his team to the title in 2002 on a shattered knee.

Notwithstanding the on-ice coach, the executive director has loomed large in the recent history of Canadian Olympic hockey. Players felt in a certain sense that they were playing for Wayne Gretzky, who served in that role, and it was a powerful motivator for them. Imagine how they will feel in 2010 being led by Steve Yzerman, the longest-serving captain in the history of the NHL and someone universally liked and respected.

He will have a strong support staff around him, including the great Ken Holland, GM of the Red Wings, so he will have every institutional advantage possible. I believe that Team Canada chose wisely when they selected this icon to lead them forward and I think that the combination of this braintrust and what will be an unmatched home-ice advantage sets up the Canadians as the early favorites in what is always one of sports' greatest tournaments.

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