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HOLY JUMPIN!: GRETZKY DECISION THE RIGHT ONE

Sunday, 10.19.2008 / 2:14 PM / Holy Jumpin! - a Blog by Darren Pang
By Darren Pang
Steve Yzerman is in charge of 2010 for Hockey Canada.

Wayne Gretzky will be there every step of the way as Executive Advisor to Yzerman.

What a start to what should become a great team.

Yzerman is well prepared for this post as he has been in charge of Canada's World Championship team for the past two seasons, winning a gold medal in Moscow in 2007 and a silver medal in Halifax and Quebec City, in what was an awesome tournament in which Canada led in the final game vs Russia twice, before losing.

I was fortunate to sit in on conference calls for both Worlds as the selection process and evaluation of NHL players took place, and I can tell you firsthand that Yzerman is a man that is very serious about any responsibilities he has and is a very detailed oriented person. He can make hard decisions and is not afraid to do so.  He learned a lot about the 2008 roster, and will be watching every possible player closely from now until the process is complete. He will, at the end of the day, make the tough choices and have the final say on this team, from the trainers to the coaches.

His experience as a manager may pale in comparison to his experience as the captain of the Detroit Red Wings. There is a great deal of responsiblity when you wear the "C", as Gretzky would also tell you. You are involved in more than people give credit for, especially when it is an "Original Six" team that has expectations to win every season, as the Red Wings do and the Gretzky led Oilers did. You are responsible for every team function, decisions with coaches on layovers in cities, practices, flight options and any other team get together. You combine that with his position as Vice President of Hockey Operations for the Red Wings and the past two World Championships, to go along with being involved in NHL Hockey Operations meetings on goalie equipment decisions to Board of Governor meetings...Well, that's as much as anyone in hockey gets invloved with.

Yzerman has been on the phone several times already with Gretzky and they will continue to speak weekly. Both brilliant hockey minds are on the same page and both think in a very similar fashion. Yzerman will lean heavily on his entire staff, as he has brought in Kevin Lowe, Doug Armstrong and Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland along with Gretzky, to round out his hockey operations staff.

He also has a very underrated hockey mind in Bob Nicholson and Johnny Misley from Hockey Canada.

With Gretzky coaching the Coyotes and being directly in the fire behind the bench, he has a great understanding when evaluating players that will be considered for Team Canada.

He can be of great assistance in his communication with Yzerman when the selection process takes place. As a coach, you get to know which players are hard to play against and which ones are perimeter players that get points when the game is not on the line.

In a short tournament like the Olympics, it's all about players that show up in the important minutes of a game.

Gretzky sees it all up close. He breaks down the other teams best players and match-ups, gets his own match-ups and has a memory like I have never seen before.

He can also help in the coaching decisions, if he isn't one himself.

This is all invaluable. The best thing about it is Gretzky passed the baton over to Yzerman. He gave it a full blessing.

Gretzky often talks about how he learned so much from Guy Lafleur in the 1981 Canada Cup. He would follow him around the room and just listen and observe. Then he passed it down to Mario Lemieux in the 1987 Canada Cup. We all know how Mario turned out.

At the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Gretzky had breakfast often with the managing team of Bob Clarke and Bob Gainey, soaking it all up and that eventually helped him run Team Canada in 2002 when Canada won its first gold medal on the ice in 50 years.

Yzerman had lost at every level before he won. He is not afraid of losing. He has a few layers of pretty tough skin. He knows as much as any player in history how much you have to sacrifice in order to win. He was always front and center taking accountability during the most difficult losses in franchise history. He was always humble when they won, deflecting praise and keeping things typically even keeled.

This is a pretty dynamic tandem.

Let the Games begin.

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