World Junior tournament bronze sparks speculation for 2002 olympics

With Canada’s bronze medal overtime win over Sweden at the 2001 World Junior Championship still fresh in our minds, how about taking a look into the near future, the 2002 Canadian Winter Olympic Men’s hockey team to be precise.

Canadians should be proud of our Juniors and the work they did in Moscow. Team Canada went to Russia with skill over character and should be applauded for their selections, with the exception of not inserting the highly-skilled Kris Beech into their lineup. That’s where we come in.

With Wayne Gretzky as general manager (GM) and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Pat Quinn as head coach, Canada looks like a good bet to pick skill over size and character. Granted, the latter is needed, but not on every line, as we saw in Nagano, Japan at the ’98 Olympic games where Keith Primeau, Shayne Corson and Trevor Linden were expected to add tons of grit.

So, without further ado, here are the predictions for Canada’s lineup (13 forwards, seven defencemen and three goaltenders) in 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

This may surprise many, but Mario Lemieux will play and you heard it here first. Lemieux will center the first line consisting of left-winger (LW) Paul Kariya and right-winger (RW) Brendan Shanahan. All three of these players can put the puck in the net, but Lemieux’s main job will be setting-up his scoring wingers.

On the second line, Steve Yzerman will center Joe Sakic (LW) and Theoren Fleury (RW). This will surely be Canada’s momentum line and they have the added bonus of having played together at the ’98 Olympics.

Canada’s third line will be made up of three guys who know how to put the puck in the net, two of them being from Qu*bec. Vincent Lecavalier will center the line, with Luc Robitaille on his left and Owen Nolan on his right. Some may say this line lacks heart, but forget about that. Whatever they lack in heart and grit (Nolan’s got both) they make-up with a tremendous amount of skill. This will be Canada’s most exciting and dynamic line and look for Robitaille to possibly lead this team in goal-scoring.

Canada’s most controversial line will be its fourth. Captain Mark Messier will strut his stuff and show the huge mistake Canada made in ’98 by leaving him off the team. Sure, he’ll be 41 come 2002, but he’s going to play until he’s 45. Messier will have former Hab Pierre Turgeon on his left and with Team Canada’s most surprising choice, John Madden on right wing. Turgeon is not a liability on defense (he was a +30 on St. Louis last season) and he can score as well as he sets up. Madden will be Canada’s defensive-forward (much like Rob Zamuner was in 1998) and will be their No.1 penalty-killer. He is the best at killing penalties in the game today and he can also score .

Mark Recchi will be Canada’s 13th and most versatile forward, as he can play any position on any line. There’s also guys like Ryan Smyth, Jarome Iginla, Darcy Tucker, Alex Tanguay, Simon Gagn* and Jason Allison who will, and should get some consideration.

On defense, it will be a mix of size, skill and experience, but very little speed.

Chris Pronger will anchor the defense and play alongside tower of power Scott Stevens. This will be Canada’s best defense-pairing and No.1 penalty-killing unit.

The second pairing will see Rob Blake and Raymond Bourque. These two can do it all and Blake will be Canada’s No.1 point-man on the power play with his booming and accurate shot.

The last pairing will see Al MacInnis with Eric Desjardins. Both these players will provide character and will chip in with the odd point, especially MacInnis on the power play.

The decision for the seventh spot on this defensive unit will come down to Scott Niedermayer, Ed Jovanovski and Darryl Sydor, with Niedermayer getting the nod.

Lastly, but most importantly in a two-week competition, goaltending. There are four goaltenders vying for three spots: Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour. Look for Brodeur to fight it out with Joseph for the No.1 spot, with Brodeur getting the edge. Picking between two whiners, Roy and Belfour, won’t be easy, seeing as neither one will accept a back-up role with the team. Roy will get it, decline, and Belfour will be named to the team.

All predictions can and will be criticized, but here’s hoping everyone agrees.


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