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January 07, 2002

The Nhl

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? Pascal Leclaire (No. 8, Blue Jackets). In his first four tournament games he was 4-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and a .965 save percentage. Leclaire, the first netminder selected last June, had 38 saves against Sweden in the quarterfinals and 35 against Switzerland in the semis.

? Jason Spezza (No. 2, Senators). In his third trip to this tournament, Canada's top-line center didn't dominate the score sheet (no goals and three assists in his team's first six games) but showed dazzling stickhandling skill and frequently controlled the tempo of play.

Canadian Olympic Coach
Where's Scotty Bowman?

One can nitpick over general manager Wayne Gretzky's selections for the Canadian Olympic team—why Joe Nieuwendyk over Joe Thornton, or Ed Belfour over Sean Burke?—but there's little dispute that the Great One has assembled a gold-medal-caliber squad for the Salt Lake City Games. One less kibitzed-about choice may turn out to be the most significant: Why Pat Quinn over Scotty Bowman behind the bench?

Not to take anything from Quinn, 58, who's one of six NHL coaches with at least 500 wins and 1,000 games, but only Billy Reay has more regular-season victories (542 to Quinn's 506) without a Stanley Cup. Since the principle for selecting an Olympic team is getting the best talent at each position, shouldn't tapping the 68-year-old Bowman, who a) is the winningest NHL coach, b) has a record-tying eight Stanley Cups and c) is the best bench coach in league history, have been a no-brainer? "I don't know why I wasn't asked," Bowman says. The Canadian Hockey Association (CHA)—the Olympic team's governing body, which chose both Gretzky and Quinn—didn't return SI's calls for comment.

Speculation about the snub centers on Bowman's decision to withdraw from coaching Canada's 1996 World Cup team. Bowman selected the roster and then inexplicably resigned three months before the tournament, leaving the squad to replacement coach Glen Sather. ( Canada lost to the U.S.) Bowman's pullout rankled CHA officials, but bygones should be bygones. If the fiasco in Nagano, in which Canada lost a shootout to the Czech Republic with Gretzky stuck on the bench, taught any lesson, it's that a country's failing to use its best can be the difference between a medal and a flop.

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