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Bruce Dowbiggin (Globe and Mail)
Bruce Dowbiggin (Globe and Mail)

The Usual Suspects

A calm, measured start Add to ...

There wasn't a Hugh Jackman song 'n dance or Billy Crystal cracking wise about the nominees, but Wednesday's announcement of the men's Olympic hockey team was still boffo entertainment by hockey standards. After months of general manager Steve Yzerman wandering the hockey landscape like Banquo's ghost, the 23 men who'll wear the Haida maple leaf in Vancouver were finally revealed to a waiting nation in a one-hour special from Saskatoon. And yes, Virginia, there were some mild surprises amongst the players attempting to win just the second Olympic gold medal in 58 years.

Broadcast live in front of an enthusiastic throng at the World Junior tournament, the crew from TSN/ Sportsnet crew certainly was four lines deep. Host Brian Williams threw to anchor James Duthie who threw to co-anchor Daren Millard who threw to panel moderator Dave Hodge who threw to Hockey Canada's Andre Brin, who threw to Bob Nicholson who threw to Steve Yzerman who... let's just say the only guy in the room who didn't speak by ceremony's end was the janitor.

After the roll call of suits (could they not have found someone other than Andre Brin to speak French in the opening salvo?) Yzerman and his band of headhunters got around to their long-awaited picks. The surprises? Calgary's three defence contenders were all told to take a holiday while Patrice Bergeron of Boston got a mildly surprising "come on down!". (No one we heard wanted to address whether Bergeron's selection was to placate the usual Quebec nationalists who otherwise would have had just the three goalie to brag on.) Which didn't mean that the media savants who'd been predicting other lineup permutations for months were taken aback. No matter how wayward their own predictions (Usual Suspects had Doughty out and Martin St. Louis in), the TV and print guys had easy explanations for why Jay Bouwmeester or Dion Phaneuf was out and Brenden Morrow was in. If the Canadian hockey players show the lateral movement the media demonstrated in the wake of Wednesday's announcement then Canada will be just fine, thank you.

"Fit" was the sticky word of the day in describing why one media guy's lock-solid pick failed to make the final roster. TSN's Bob McKenzie said players such as Jarome Iginla could fit into a physical other than scorer. Morrow fit as a player who could handle the penalty kill. Brad Richards fit the category of player with championship rings who could win a key draw. There was more fitting than Harry Rosen's tailor shop.

With the mild shock of Doughty in/ Bouwmeester out dissected beyond recognition, players selected to the team were trotted out to say things about pressure that, in two months, they'll admit was so much applesauce. Roberto Luongo said no, he didn't think Vancouver's brutal 17 games in the five days before the Games would tire him out. Steve Yzerman said he's take his team over any other in the world. And Pierre McGuire said Doughty was a tremendous player (Come to think of it, Pierre said they were all tremendous players).

Perhaps it's a bit much much to expect a modest Canadian to emulate Sweden's Mikael Samuelsson, who dropped an f-bomb on his country's national program for not picking him for Vancouver. But it might have broken the monotony if someone stepped up to say that Bouwmeester or Vinny Lecavalier wuz robbed. Then again, Team Canada is hoping to minimize the shocks all the way to a gold medal. If smooth and steady wins the race to gold, then the TSN/ Sportsnet show was a calm, measured start.

********************************************* Clean Up Squad: Is it just Usual Suspects, or has the World Juniors gotten very truculent (to use a Burkeism)? Dirty might be another word for the nonsense. Whether it's Canadian captain Patrice Cormier with cheap-shot elbows, Nazim Kadri with the throat-slash gesture or the Russians and Finns channeling their inner Slap Shot with head shots and boarding, isn't it time the IIHF cracked down with a suspension? Judging by the silence of the concerned parties, one would think this is what they want the teenagers doing for the TV cameras.

********************************************** Should Auld Acquaintance: We've described before how TSN and the World Juniors have become interchangeable. The same is now being said about NBC and the Winter Classic-- to be played Friday at Fenway Park in Boston (in case you've been in Tuvalu since Labour Day). With its pre-nup to Comcast in the vault, NBC wants to appear a player against the ESPNs-- especially on a day when the other networks are rolling out football bowl games. Trotting out Bob Costas at the Fens on New Years Day against Bowl mania sends a message that the Peacock network could be a player again.

Which makes the NHL sorta' cool in network terms. Getting any U.S. network love is, of course, Gary Bettman's idea of rapture. Which is why the architect of the NHL's "southern strategy" now wants to cover the NHL landscape with a second winter classic in Canada and assorted other TV attractions for his NBC partners. An Olympics in Russia? Let's not get ahead of ourselves...

******************************************************** Coach Service: It doesn't pay to mess with ESPN. Just ask Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach. He was suspended by the school from coaching in the Alamo Bowl against Georgia on Monday. In early reports, Leach was alleged to have improperly disciplined a player. With a little digging it turned out that the player Leach reportedly locked in a closet for three hours was Adam Leach, son of ESPN analyst Craig James. Who was-- zounds-- supposed to work the Alamo Bowl for ESPN. Faster than you can say conflict-of-interest, James recused himself from doing the Alamo Bowl. And Leach-- who was a national hero this time last year-- was fired a day later.

******************************************** Once in a while we withhold the news in our business. Some times it's improper; other times it's done because some news isn't really news at all. A while back we told you that Jim Kelley had left Sportsnet for personal reasons. At the time we knew Kelley had been diagnosed with cancer. He asked that we not publish the full nature of his illness. He didn't want people reading him for any reason other than the copy he produced. His was not a pity parade.



Out of respect for Kelley, a member of the writers' wing of hockey's Hall of Fame, we opted to use "personal reasons" to describe why he departed Sportsnet. Others, however, chose not to respect that confidence, and so Kelley has outed himself-- and denounced the "friendly" reasons his condition was disclosed. "That was a sham; the obvious intent of the mention was to point out that he was the first to write that I wouldn't be appearing on the Fan 590 for awhile, and that he had it first," Kelley wrote on his blog. "In my mind... the fact that someone outed me as being sick simply doesn't matter. I for one will not speak of the matter again. You'll get my best, and we'll move on from there."

And so will we. Except to acknowledge we didn't give you the full story on Mr. Kelley. Given the same circumstances, we'd do it again.

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