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Canada's 2010 Olympic Hockey Team


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[color:blue]Let the discussing begin...

With a mere 19 months to go, Pierre LeBrun names his picks for Team Canada's 2010 Olympics roster.

As [color:red]Sidney Crosby and [color:red]Mike Richards jousted in the final seconds of Thursday night’s Game 4 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference final, I looked down from the Wachovia Center press box in Philadelphia with two thoughts.

One, this is just the beginning of a long and bitter rivalry between the two-time world junior teammates. They are the young captains of their respective Pennsylvania teams, Crosby the 20-year-old wonderkind offensive machine from Cole Harbour, N.S., and Richards the 23-year-old, hard-nosed, two-way, Bobby Clarke-like product from Kenora, Ont. (another gem from Northern Ontario).

This likely won’t be the last time the Penguins and Flyers meet in the playoffs over the next five to 10 years, both clubs on the rise with a young core of rock-solid talent. Given their heavy slate of divisional play in the regular season, Richards and Crosby are in the early chapters of what looks to be a storied individual battle.

My second thought as they scuffled near the end of Game 4 was that in about 19 months, these two guys will be central characters with an entire country watching, both valued leaders on Team Canada despite their young age.

While it will surprise no one that Crosby is a shoe-in for the 2010 Canadian Olympic hockey team, I humbly suggest Richards is as close as a slam dunk as they come as well.

Hockey Canada isn’t interested in icing an all-star team for a skills competition. It wants to dress a team. Players like Richards, whose character is second to none, will give Team Canada some of that heart that seemed to be missing from the failed Turin squad of 2006.

There’s still an NHL season and a half to play out, but as we sit here in May 2008, here’s who I would dress for the February 2010 Games.

Up front, these are my nine offensive guys at forward, in no particular order: [color:red]Crosby, Eric Staal, Jarome Iginla, Vincent Lecavalier, Rick Nash, Ryan Getzlaf, Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Jonathan Toews. Don’t be surprised by the last name, he’s a stud and 19 months from now you won’t question Toews on the Olympic team. There are five natural centres here, but guys like Staal and Getzlaf, in particular, can easily adjust to wing. Lots of size here as well.

My checking forwards, or two-way unit, would see Richards centre veteran international performer and 2004 World Cup of Hockey hero [color:red]Shane Doan as well as Dallas Stars captain [color:red]Brenden Morrow. Talk about a line that would grind the heck out the opposition while scoring a few goals.

My 13th forward is a toss-up between three forwards -- [color:red]Jordan Staal, Jason Spezza and Corey Perry. Tough call at this point, but having spent the first three rounds of the playoffs with the Penguins, I’m a little biased towards Staal, the 19-year-old, two-way centre who will only get better. He’s also an excellent penalty killer.

Either way, two of those three guys would be on my taxi squad. As we saw in Turin, injuries are pretty common and these reserve players will be important.

On defence, this is where Canada will see some massive turnover. I see many new faces making their Olympic debuts.

For starters, I would bring back [color:red]Chris Pronger. He will still be among the game’s best 19 months from now and Team Canada needs experience. My six other blue-liners, again in no particular order: [color:red]Dion Phaneuf, Shea Weber, Jay Bouwmeester, Brian Campbell, Brent Burns and Chris Phillips.

Phillips might surprise some, but you can’t dress a team full of offensive blue-liners. Phillips is a top-notch shutdown guy and a veteran player as well.

If Canada carries three players on its taxi squad like 2006, then add [color:red]Duncan Keith over [color:red]Mike Green although I’m big fan of both players. Keith is the more complete defender.

Of course, all of this is under the understanding that [color:red]Scott Niedermayer won’t be around. If he’s still playing, we’ll need to find a place for him.

In goal, [color:red]Roberto Luongo will be the starter and then it gets interesting. Future Hall of Famer [color:red]Martin Brodeur will be 38 years old. Should he still be on the team? What about [color:red]Marty Turco, who was clutch in this year’s playoffs.

Before the playoffs began, rookie [color:red]Carey Price was a popular choice to make this team when the conversation came up with my hockey scribe colleagues. But while the young man struggled in his first career NHL playoffs, [color:red]Marc-Andre Fleury has broken through with his best stretch as an NHL goalie.

Price will bounce back with a super season next year. Fleury is hard to ignore.

[color:red]I take Fleury and Price to back up Luongo.

Of course, 19 months from now, I might competely disagree with much of this!

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