Waiting for Gretzky
TURIN - When it comes to the Winter Olympics, you can't accuse the IOC of always picking the prettiest girl at the ball.
My goodness, Vancouver is sure going to stand out from the crowd of its predecessors when the Games arrive four years from now. There was dullish Nagano in 1998, nondescript Salt Lake City in '02 and this year, a visit to Turin, a place of history, chocolate, coffee and wine, but not exactly breathtaking to behold.
Vancouver, of course, is arguably Canada's most attractive city, and won't that be nice for the world's athletes, doubly so when you start looking at the motley crew of burgs bidding for the 2014 Games. Other than spectacular Salzburg, it's not dazzling unless you like the idea of Almaty in February.
NHLers, needless to say, probably aren't going to bubbling over with superlatives when they arrive here. That's happening in dribs and drabs. On my flight in from Frankfurt this morning, the assembled including Aki Berg of the Leafs, U.S. assistant coach Mike Sullivan and defenceman Hal Gill, Swedish forward P.J. Axelsson and Russians Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Sergei Gonchar.
Team Canada arrives tomorrow in time for a 6 p.m. local time practice, and just so you know, the world is waiting for them. Well, specifically waiting for Wayne Gretzky. Journalists from around the world were curiously and eagerly asking about a scheduled press conference at the Palasport after the Canadian practice, so The Great One, it's fair to say, better bring his game face.
One suspects this could be a bumpy ride for Team Canada's executive director, even with reports coming out over the past 24 hours (wonder who leaked this stuff?) suggesting the wiretapped Gretzky talk with Rick Tocchet came last Monday, not weeks before.
Gretzky's a big boy and doesn't need any advice from this corner when it comes to handling himself before a large group of journalists. He's done it a million times.
But if he's intending on tossing out a few "no comments" and a couple "ask my lawyers" and then inviting questions on the health of third-string goalie Marty Turco, he might want to rethink the strategy.
At some point, the Phoenix coach is going to have to make it plain just what he knew about the gambling-related activities of Tocchet, and if anything, when he knew. Given that the other Coyotes assistant, Barry Smith, has said he was aware of Tocchet's extensive betting on football, it will be interesting to see if Gretzky will indeed say he didn't know anything about this business until last week when the cops swooped in.
If he can answer those two questions, this story could die quickly, providing there are no new revelations.
But if he chooses not to confront the basics, you can bet "Operation Slap Shot" will come up again and again and again.
You have to believe, by the way, the happiest person in the world has to be Team Canada forward Todd Bertuzzi, who might have been anticipating more than a small degree of interest in his hockey activities over the last couple of years from the international media, but now may be able to come in under the radar.
Given the manner in which Canada unconditionally cheered on Steve Downie at the world juniors, essentially developing short-term amnesia on the ugly incidents earlier in season involving Downie and hazing while he was with the Windsor Spitfires, Bertuzzi might reasonably expect the same, particularly if he gets off to a good start. The Vancouver winger has been up-and-down statistically over the past 25 games or so, going goal-less for nine games, then picking up a hat trick against the Islanders, then scoring once in six games before finishing with three goals in his last seven games before the Olympic break.
"Course, if things don't go well for Bertuzzi, or if he should do something, ahem, unfortunate on the ice, that'll be just another hot potato for Gretzky to handle and explain, won't it?