Three Canes make Olympics teams

Staff writerDecember 31, 2009 

  • When: 8 tonight

    Where: RBC Center, Raleigh

    TV: FSCR

    Radio: WCMC-99.9

  • Hurricanes playing in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games

    Canada

    Eric Staal, forward

    Finland

    Tuomo Ruutu, forward

    Joni Pitkanen, defenseman

    United States

    Roster to be announced Jan. 1. (Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason attended the U.S. orientation camp in Chicago in August.)

— Eric Staal missed the call but made the team.

The Carolina Hurricanes forward was hoping to learn before Wednesday's 11 a.m. practice at the RBC Center if he had been selected to play for the Canadian Olympic team at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. He didn't get that call before taking the ice, adding a little to the tension, but he noticed after practice that he had missed a call on his cell phone from Steve Yzerman, executive director of Team Canada.

"I figured that was a good sign," Staal said, smiling.

About a half-hour after practice, Staal officially was made a part of the 23-man roster with an announcement from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In February, he will be part of a Canadian team shooting for a gold medal on home soil, starting with a Feb. 16 game against Norway.

Canes goaltender Cam Ward, however, won't be. And Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen won't be playing for Finland's team despite being a solid contributor on the national team that won an Olympic silver medal in the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy.

Jokinen believed that all three of the Canes' Finns would be in Vancouver, that he would be joining defenseman Joni Pitkanen and forward Tuomo Ruutu, who on Wednesday were chosen for the Finnish team. But it was not to be.

"Obviously, it's a huge disappointment," Jokinen said. "It's a surprise and a disappointment. It's a great experience, and I think I did well [in 2006]. We had a great team, and we lost the final 3-2 [to Sweden].

"Since that moment, you kind of dream of the next Olympics. I've tried to play good hockey since then and hoped I'd make the team, but it is what it is. It's a big disappointment."

Staal, 25, was a Team Canada reserve in 2006 but did not play. But he helped the Canes win the Stanley Cup that year, then played for Canada in the 2007 and 2008 IIHF World Championships -- Canada won the gold medal in the 2007 event and silver the next year.

Staal was considered a lock for the Olympic team until he got off to a slow start this season. Then an abdominal injury sidelined him for 10 games.

Yzerman flew to Raleigh to scout Staal during Carolina's Dec. 5 game against the Vancouver Canucks, and Staal had two assists in a 5-3 win. But the pool of Canadian forwards was deep -- those not selected include Jeff Carter of the Philadelphia Flyers, Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes, Ryan Smyth of the Los Angeles Kings and the Tampa Bay Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.

"I wasn't super worried about it, but you're always wondering," Staal said. "Any time you can put your country's jersey on, it's a great feeling and an honor. And that being said, it's going to be in Canada, with that added bonus."

An injury this season probably ended Ward's chances. The 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner was considered a strong candidate for one of three goaltending positions, and he attended Team Canada's Olympic orientation camp with Staal in late August. Then, a stint on injured reserve after a Nov. 7 leg laceration kept him out for a month.

However, like the rest of the Canes (10-22-7), he had struggled.

"[The injury] didn't help my cause by any means," Ward said. "... It is disappointing knowing I'm not going to be able to share that opportunity with Eric and the guys.

"But there is always another Olympics four years from now, and I'll be looking to that one."

Pitkanen and Ruutu missed the 2006 Olympics with injuries, so being chosen for 2010 was exciting. But they wanted Jokinen with them.

"It's huge. Back home, the national team is the biggest thing," Pitkanen said. "I was hoping Jussi would make the team, but it's not easy to pick the team. Every time, some good players don't make the team."

Likewise, Staal was hoping to have Ward as a teammate.

"It's tough," Staal said. "... But he'll get his, and he'll be there, hopefully, the next time around."

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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