Originally created 11/29/97

Pressure intense as Canada selects Olympic hockey team



TORONTO -- With Oscar-style hoopla, Canada announces its men's Olympic hockey team in a nationally televised ceremony Saturday night. Its mission: restore lost national honor.

The 23 selected players probably will be under as much pressure to win as any team at Nagano. Canadians who revere their national sport will be expecting the squad of NHL stars to avenge the painful loss to the United States in last year's World Cup.

For weeks, there has been much speculation about who will make the roster for the first Olympics open to NHL players. Canada's amateur teams haven't won the hockey gold medal since 1952.

Some roster choices appear certain -- goalie Patrick Roy and center Eric Lindros, for example. But debate rages over the chances of some other well-known stars, notably Mark Messier.

"I tried to find out. but I can't," Edmonton Oilers general manager Glen Sather said about the makeup of the team.

The selection process began in August when general managers Bobby Clarke, Bob Gainey and Pierre Gauthier drew up a list of 65 players. The three have held periodic reviews since the NHL season started, gradually paring down the list based on performances and injuries.

One player, Paul Kariya, is considered a cinch for a berth even though he hasn't played this season for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks because of a contract dispute.

Among others expected to be selected are goalie Martin Brodeur, defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, centers Joe Sakic and Wayne Gretzky, and wing Brendan Shanahan.

Saturday night's ceremony will take place at the Corel Center, home of the Ottawa Senators. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and the main sports cable channel will show it live across Canada.

Prominent players who don't make the squad supposedly will get the bad news earlier in the day by telephone.

"It's like the Oscars," Edmonton goalie Curtis Joseph said. "Nobody knows for sure."

Pressure will start building on the players almost as soon as they are chosen. Canadians were stunned in September 1996 when their best pro players were beaten by the United States 5-2 in the decisive third game of the World Cup.

Though hockey has a large following in the United States, there is nothing equivalent to the national passion for the sport in Canada.