Yzerman keeping tabs on Worlds with 2014 Olympics in mind

Steve Yzerman is watching closely.

HELSINKI, Finland — Steve Yzerman is watching closely.

The 2014 Olympics might still be almost two years away, but it’s currently front of mind for the man in charge of assembling Team Canada. Yzerman and his entire management staff for the Games in Sochi, Russia, have made the trip to the IIHF World Hockey Championship as part of their preparation.

“When we’re picking the Olympic team, we want to watch these guys,” he said Sunday.

A big part of the scouting process is focused on how players handle the larger international ice surface.

The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver were won on the NHL-sized sheet that North American players are accustomed to, but the tournament in Russia will be played to IIHF specifications, which is four metres wider. That extra space produces a different-looking game and tends to put a premium on speed and mobility.

“It’s an eye-opener for the players,” said Yzerman. “It’s just a different game and some players adapt better to it than others. … The big thing is skating, you’ve got to be able to get around the ice. For defencemen, they’ve got to be able to move out there.”

There is still no deal in place to guarantee NHL players will compete in Sochi, but Hockey Canada is moving ahead under the assumption that they will. Yzerman was named executive director of the 2014 Olympic team in March and kept intact the management group that built the 2010 gold-medal winner in Vancouver: Ken Holland, Doug Armstrong and Kevin Lowe.

Lowe was also made the general manager for this world championship — a clear sign to players that there will be a strong link between the teams.

“It’s important for the guys who are really serious about the Olympics and want to be there,” said Yzerman. “Some guys, it can make a difference being here in this tournament.”

Canada is also in need of a strong finish to boost its world ranking. The country has slipped to fifth after consecutive quarter-final exits at the world championship and will see its position frozen after this tournament to determine everything from groupings to practice times and dressing room assignments in Sochi.

“This tournament’s important for us,” said Yzerman. “You hear about the world rankings, but it’s important for the (Olympics) — the way your schedule is set up and what not. We want to do well at this tournament.

“We’re trying to get a successful program going and we haven’t won a gold since 2007.”

Yzerman was the GM of that championship team in Moscow and also put together the group that won silver the following year in Quebec City and Halifax.

As much as anyone, he knows how tough the world championship is to win. He believes the biggest challenges facing Canadian teams is a lack of proper preparation time and the ever-improving quality of competition on the world stage.

“You put the team together quickly and somebody different wins it every year,” said Yzerman. “It’s a hard tournament, the other countries have just gotten better. It’s no longer just Russia, Canada, Finland, Sweden, U.S. — all these games are tough games.

“All the countries have improved and it makes it harder to win.”

The Canadian team currently sits atop the Helsinki group with a 5-0-1 record. It can clinch the top seed heading into the quarter-finals with a victory in its final round robin game against Belarus on Tuesday.

Yzerman has watched Canada play live here twice — a 5-3 win over Finland on Friday and 8-0 victory over Kazakhstan on Saturday — and caught a 3-2 decision over Switzerland on the Internet prior to travelling to Helsinki.

“I think they’re getting better,” said Yzerman. “In the Kazakhstan game yesterday — not a strong opponent — but they’re starting to look more comfortable on the ice and more cohesive.

“They’re getting better and better as the tournament goes.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Second day of search yields no sign of French snowmobilers missing in Quebec

ST-HENRI-DE-TAILLON, Que. — It was an exuberant group of French travellers who… Continue reading

Barriers exist for women to get into Conservative race: Marilyn Gladu

OTTAWA — Tight timelines for membership sign-ups and a high entry fee… Continue reading

Royal Canadian Legion expels members for wearing unearned military commendations

OTTAWA — The Royal Canadian Legion says it has taken a landmark… Continue reading

China, Russia under pressure from Myanmar Rohingya genocide ruling: Bob Rae

OTTAWA — China and Russia face pressure to prevent genocide in Myanmar… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Jan. 22 Downtown House Senior Center (5414 43 St.) in Red Deer… Continue reading

David Marsden: Drug addicts deserve our care

The provincial government, rather than seizing an opportunity, is flirting with putting… Continue reading

Second day of search yields no sign of French snowmobilers missing in Quebec

ST-HENRI-DE-TAILLON, Que. — It was an exuberant group of French travellers who… Continue reading

Local Sports: Tyler Podgorenko’s presence with the Kings being felt

The biggest question surrounding the RDC Kings hockey team going into the… Continue reading

Barriers exist for women to get into Conservative race: Marilyn Gladu

OTTAWA — Tight timelines for membership sign-ups and a high entry fee… Continue reading

A look at Canada’s seven NHL teams heading into the all-star break

When the NHL returns from its bye weeks and all-star break, there… Continue reading

Canada stamps honour on pre-NHL all-black hockey league

CHERRY BROOK, N.S. — Canada is paying tribute to an all-black hockey… Continue reading

Toronto Argonauts, Saskatchewan Roughriders to square off in Halifax

HALIFAX — Brett Lauther will be returning home this summer. The CFL… Continue reading

Most Read