tampabay.com

Canada picks trio from Lightning

Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis will head to Turin, Italy, in February for the Olympics.

By TOM JONES
Published December 22, 2005


NEW YORK - Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier fell asleep Wednesday afternoon at the team's hotel in midtown Manhattan. When he awoke at about 4:30, he turned on his cell phone and found no messages.

For a split second, Lecavalier's heart sank to his stomach. By that time, teammate Brad Richards already had gotten the good news. So had Marty St. Louis. But Lecavalier had heard nothing. He had to sweat it out and did not learn his good news until all of Canada did.

When his named was called out on national television back home, he finally learned he would join Richards and St. Louis in Italy in February as a member of the Canadian Olympic team. Defenseman Dan Boyle, a long shot, was not named. "It's a great honor," Lecavalier said. "It's going to be a great experience."

It's an experience the three could hardly have imagined just a few years ago. Lecavalier and Richards were on a Lightning team that struggled to win 20 games a season while St. Louis could barely keep a job in the NHL.

"Wearing the (Maple) Leaf is every kid's dream," St. Louis said. "I watched the Olympics as a kid. It's exciting to watch, and now to think I'm going to be a part of that, it's a dream come true."

While Lecavalier didn't get confirmation until late in the day, no one probably sweated out the final selection as much as St. Louis. Despite winning the NHL's most valuable player award during the Lightning's 2003-04 Stanley Cup season, St. Louis was believed to be on the bubble. St. Louis started the season in a slump with one goal in the first seven games and three points in the first nine. Then he broke his finger Nov.13 and was supposed to miss 2-4 weeks. He missed only two games and returned on fire.

"I was worried," St. Louis said. "The biggest thing for me was to give myself a chance to be on that team. Things were going not too good, and then I break my finger. I think a part of me wanted to try to come back as soon as I could to help (the Lightning) and to give a good push (to make the Olympic team) and to give myself a chance."

Still, young stars such as Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Carolina's Eric Staal and Ottawa's Jason Spezza became hot names to make the team. When Wednesday's announcement came, none made the final roster (Staal and Spezza were named to the emergency taxi squad), but St. Louis had.

"It wasn't based on two-and-a-half months of playing," St. Louis said. "I think the biggest thing is regular guys had to play their way off the team. I don't think any of the regulars had done that."

Not only have Lecavalier and Richards not done anything to lose their spots, they played well this season to solidify a spot.

All three Lightning players played for Canada's gold medal team at the 2004 World Cup, a tournament similar to the Olympics in which Lecavalier was named MVP.

As of Wednesday, Richards was 15th in the NHL this season in scoring and Lecavalier 23rd.

"Every time I have put on that jersey, it has been a very special honor," Richards said. "After the Stanley Cup, the Olympics is the next biggest thing for a hockey player. When you're born in Canada, there's not much else than the Stanley Cup and playing for your country."

With Canada making up 57 percent of the NHL, it also is fair to say Team Canada is the hardest team in the world to make.

"It's special to be even mentioned with all those great players," Richards said. "And to have a guy like (Canada's executive director Wayne) Gretzky think that highly of you, it's very special. I guess you get rewarded for success."

Three such players from the Tampa Bay Lightning got rewarded Wednesday.