Yzerman: No extra pressure on Team Canada
Yzerman met the Olympic media for the first time on Saturday and fielded at least three questions asking, with different slants, how his team will handle the unrelenting pressure it will face during the two-week tournament.
He confronted the issue head-on.
"I would say every player in this tournament; we play to win," said Yzerman, a playing member of the 2002 Team Canada that ended the country's 50-year Olympic hockey gold-medal drought. "Every player from each of these countries plays to win. It's nothing unusual.
"You play in tournaments as a young boy or girl, and it is all about winning. This situation is no different for us. The hopes are gold; but they are for several other countries, as well. For our players, they are used to this thing. They play playoff series after playoff series, year in and year out and they play in tournaments throughout their minor hockey career where they have to win. So, the situation is no different, it's just on a much bigger scale, obviously."
But, he became a little more prickly when asked about the threat posed by Russia, considered to be Canada's main rival for 2010 glory.
"Honestly, do you think they will have a parade in Moscow if the Russians go on with a silver medal?" Yzerman asked a Russian journalist who asked about the pressure on his team. "They won't. The expectation in Russia is gold. The expectation in Sweden is gold and, whether they admit or not, the USA is in this to win a gold medal -- and I won't forget any of the other countries, as well. All of us are playing to win a gold medal, and every team that doesn't will be disappointed."
Then, in a bit of mental gamesmanship, Yzerman placed the pressure firmly on the shoulders of the Russians by listing their recent accomplishments -- including the fact that Russia, not Canada, is the No. 1-ranked team in the most recent IIHF men's rankings.
"The Russians have won the last two World Championships." Yzerman noted. "They are bringing their best players; they have some of the top forwards in the world right now. They are the No. 1-ranked team in the world right now. They are the favorite going into this tournament. We have to play our best and with a little bit of luck, the other countries can somehow dethrone them."
Clearly, Yzerman was overstating the situation. The Canadians certainly can beat the Russians, just as easily as the Russians can beat the Canadians -- especially in a one-game, winner-take-all showdown.
But Yzerman figured it couldn't hurt to give the Russians a taste of the medicine the world has been trying to force down Canada's throat for the past several months.
Plus, he has his own plan to deal with the pressure generated by this tournament, using a scenario all of his players are all too familiar with. Simply, he has told his staff to treat the tournament like a Stanley Cup finals series.
"To me, it's like the Stanley Cup finals," Yzerman said. "Basically, you are going to play six or seven games to win a gold medal."
Yzerman argued that the three-game pool play portion of the tournament is not all that important because it is only for seeding purposes as before the knockout portion of the tournament, which can be as many as four win-or-be-done games in a six-day period.
"You have those first three games, much like in a NHL playoff series, you're not possibly eliminated until the fourth game," he said. "It's the same type of situation here. We play Norway, Switzerland and the USA (in pool play), and then whether we play a qualification game or not. You have to win those games from that point on. That's the way we have to treat it, like we are playing in a Stanley Cup finals series.
"There's a little bit more uncertainty, but all the teams are in the same situation. We have basically a week to get it all figured out before you face a game where you could get eliminated."