The Team Canada brass also didn't think enough of Roy, the NHL's winningest goaltender, to make him one of the eight preselected players. Roy, who attended the orientation camp, announced on Nov. 21 that he was removing himself from consideration for the Olympic team because he wanted to concentrate on winning another Stanley Cup with Colorado. Gretzky and Lowe talked of pressing Roy to reconsider but ultimately decided they shouldn't have to beg someone to play for his country. The mistake was not to have asked him in the first place, something his good work in Nagano, his Conn Smythe Trophy last spring and his 500-plus NHL victories warranted.
Gretzky picked Brodeur, Toronto's Curtis Joseph and the Dallas Stars' Ed Belfour, a trio whose grand reputations exceed their current levels of play. Brodeur handles the puck brilliantly but has not been his old self in stopping it. For all his early-round playoff magic, the acrobatic Joseph, who does not play the positional style that usually succeeds on big ice, hasn't won a Stanley Cup and was in net during Canada's late World Cup collapse in 1996. Belfour has beaten Roy twice in Game 7s and has won a Cup, but he has had a disappointing season. "Three outstanding goalies," one NHL general manager says, "but Roy is on an entirely different level." After falling to Hasek in '98 and now facing the prospect of Russia's white-hot Nikolai Khabibulin's snatching the 2002 gold, goaltending is an area that should make Canada wary.
The run-up to the Olympics has been interminable and the expectations are crushing, but as Smyth says, "It's always been like that. It adds to the incentive." Almost 18 years after handing out sticks to Gretzky, Messier and Anderson, he can be part of Canada's all-hockey, all-the-time continuum. For Smyth and Canada, Salt Lake City is where the rubber meets not the shirt but the road.