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Canada's Olympic captain a burning question

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The Canadian Press
8/25/2009 7:46:20 PM
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CALGARY - The question just keeps popping up. Who will be captain of the Canadian men's hockey team at the 2010 Olympics?

There's no shortage of candidates among the 46 invited to the four-day camp concluding Thursday with an intrasquad game at Pengrowth Saddledome. Twenty-three invitees were either captains or alternate captains of their respective NHL club teams last season.

The three frontrunners for the job of Olympic Captain Canada are Anaheim defenceman Scott Niedermayer, Calgary Flames winger Jarome Iginla and Pittsburgh Penguins centre Sidney Crosby.

Los Angeles Kings winger Ryan Smyth and Phoenix Coyotes forward Shane Doan have been Canada's captain at multiple world championships. They're also in the running to wear a letter, if not the 'C'.

The all-sports Toronto radio network The Fan devoted a call-in show to the subject of who should be captain on Tuesday afternoon.

When asked at the start of camp if Crosby or Iginla will be his choice, head coach Mike Babcock immediately threw out Niedermayer's name.

Niedermayer is the elder statesman on the camp roster and will be 36 in Vancouver. He's won every major trophy in hockey both domestically and internationally, including an Olympic gold in 2002. Niedermayer is thoughtful, measured and considered one of the best puck-carrying defencemen in the game.

"I think Scotty Niedermayer's got a pretty good track record," said Babcock. "When I look at this group, what I see is a whole ton of young players and I see some guys who have been through it before.

"There's going to be an environment and a climate that expects success and I think the guys that have been there before have a chance to calm you down."

"We're going to ask everybody on this team to lead in their own way. In saying that, I think the guys that have been through it before will be the stabilizing factors."

That philosophy might put Crosby out of the running. The Pittsburgh Penguins' captain showed maturity beyond his 22 years by leading the Pens to a Stanley Cup title this year.

He's a virtual lock to play for Canada, but Vancouver marks his Olympic debut. For a player who is expected to score a lot there, adding the mantle of captain may be overload.

"To be a captain of this team would be a huge responsibility, but at the same time I think if you're going to be put in that situation you couldn't be surrounded by a better group of leaders," Crosby said.

Iginla, a two-time Olympian, has been the Calgary Flames' captain for six years. He was a late addition to the 2001 Olympic orientation camp as a replacement for injured Simon Gagne, yet scored twice in the gold-medal game in Salt Lake City.

The 32-year-old right-winger can change a game's tempo in a myriad of ways - big hit, creative pass, a big goal - while providing solid, upbeat leadership for his team.

"It's not something I believe that you lobby for and try to be or anything like that," Iginla said of the captaincy. "It's not really something I think a lot about."

"They have a lot of good choices to choose from. The captain and assistants will get a lot of support from the guys in the room because there are so many very good leaders in there."

Win or lose, the captain will be the public face and voice of the players on the Olympic team. The pressure to win gold in Vancouver will be immense, so the captain will bear a lot of credit and blame.

"As an older player, you like to think that experience does count for something, but I don't think necessarily that it has to be the captain," Niedermayer said. "If there's some guys in the room that have been through it before and can be someone to lean on at difficult times, that's fine."

"There's really a handful or a bunch of choices that would work, so I don't think there's one right choice. All the guys here are of the mindset that if it's them they're going to do their best job with it and if it's not them, they're still going to do whatever they can to help the team."

Smyth was captain of Canada's world championship team five straight years from 2001 to 2005. He says his challenge was to keep the team a functioning unit during the tough times of the competition.

"It's overcoming adversity at times through a short tournament," Smyth said. "It's obviously going to be a tough decision for management to make."

"It's going to be a great decision no matter what."

 

Jarome Iginla (Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images)
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