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HELENE ELLIOTT / ON THE NHL

For Kings' Ryan Smyth, making Team Canada is now an uphill battle

That nation's Olympics roster is due out Dec. 30. And the man nicknamed 'Captain Canada' is coming back from an injury with little time left to impress.

December 22, 2009|Helene Elliott
  • Ryan Smyth is expected to return Saturday from a November injury.
Ryan Smyth is expected to return Saturday from a November injury. (James Guillory / US Presswire )

The countdown to the Vancouver Olympics will take another leap forward Wednesday, when Belarus will become the first of 12 competing hockey federations to announce its roster for the men's tournament.

Russia, a potential gold medalist, will announce its powerful roster on Christmas. Defending champion Sweden will declare its entries Sunday. The parade will end with announcements by Canada on Dec. 30 and the U.S. on Jan. 1 during the Winter Classic.


FOR THE RECORD:
Kings hockey photo: A photo caption in Tuesday's Sports section that accompanied a column by Helene Elliott on Ryan Smyth identified the player seen congratulating Smyth as Michal Handzus. The player pictured was Anze Kopitar. —

As the host nation and self-proclaimed inventor of hockey, Canada will face the most scrutiny and pressure in Vancouver. It's too bad that Kings left wing Ryan Smyth, nicknamed "Captain Canada" for his meritorious service to his homeland, probably won't be there to share those burdens.

Smyth, who has been Team Canada's captain at five world championships and played in seven overall, put himself in the mix for a Vancouver berth by producing nine goals and 23 points in his first 22 games. An apparent rib injury he suffered Nov. 16 took him out of the lineup and likely out of the Olympics too.

Smyth is expected to return Saturday, when the Kings play the Coyotes at Glendale, Ariz., but while he was gone younger forwards had a prolonged chance to impress Team Canada's executive director, Steve Yzerman, and the Canadian staff.

Smyth, a member of Canada's 2002 championship team at Salt Lake City and the 2006 Turin team that finished seventh, knows that being out of sight for so long has put him out of the minds of Team Canada's top brass and has minimized his chances of making a third Olympic appearance.

"Yeah, I have to say it's been playing a little bit in my mind also. I haven't heard from anybody," he said Monday. "It's disappointing being injured, at the time how things were going for myself personally. I would love to play on that team but that's not my choice to make."

Some forwards are a lock for Canada: Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Rick Nash, Joe Thornton (likely with frequent San Jose linemates Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley), and the Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf.

Philadelphia's Mike Richards might have played his way off the team but there's support for Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal and brother Eric of Carolina, the Coyotes' Shane Doan and Dallas' Brenden Morrow and Brad Richards. Ducks right wing Corey Perry has all but earned a place by scoring 16 goals and 38 points in 35 games. Boston's Patrice Bergeron, not invited to last summer's orientation camp, has been closely watched and is being considered. Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier are probably out of the running, but no one knows for sure.

That wealth up front leaves no room for Smyth, who will turn 34 during the Games. But he hasn't given up.

"I believe they're announcing the team on the 30th, so I've got a couple games to maybe make my stand -- if there is one," he said.

"I just want to give myself every opportunity to be a part of it. I know how exciting it was back in '02 and '06. We lost in '06, but any time you represent your country it's an honor."

Slap shots

After a fire in an equipment truck destroyed much of the Minnesota Wild's gear Friday in Ottawa, team personnel had to scramble for new skates, helmets and pads to outfit players for Saturday's game. Players are particular about their equipment -- goaltenders especially. The Wild recalled a minor league goalie in case Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding didn't feel comfortable facing the Senators in their new gear, but Backstrom played -- and the Wild lost, 4-1.

Goalie Timo Pielmeier, acquired by the Ducks last spring from San Jose, scored into an empty net Saturday to help Bakersfield of the ECHL defeat Utah, 6-4. Pielmeier, 20, was the league's goalie of the month in November -- now he can be the goal-scoring goalie of the month.

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Reason to smile

Anze Kopitar, whose goal production lagged after Ryan Smyth's injury, welcomes teammate's return to practice.

How they stack up

Helene Elliott ranks the NHL's 30 teams, with the New Jersey Devils at the top. The Kings are fourth and the Ducks 20th.

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