Stevie Y's calm set tone for Canada
TAMPA, Fla. -- A year ago Wednesday, Team Canada would open its account at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic men's hockey tournament with an 8-0 rout of Norway.
Not that Steve Yzerman felt any relief that day. Nor would the Team Canada GM feel anything but constant stomach churning for the next two weeks. The host country was counting on a gold medal, and anything less would be a complete disaster. No pressure there.
"Through the whole thing, you got a knot in your stomach, and you just never relax," Yzerman told ESPN.com on Tuesday, recalling last year's magical tourney. "You have that feeling from the minute you land in Vancouver to the second Sidney [Crosby] shoots the puck in the net that you have to win. You never relax."
Throughout those two weeks last February, Yzerman was the epitome of calmness on and around the team, no matter what his stomach felt like on the inside. That's his style, and it was just what Team Canada needed with a hockey-crazy nation champing at the bit.
Venerable Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who was Yzerman's right-hand man on Team Canada, points to his protégé's effect in Tampa Bay as a first-year NHL GM.
"The first thing he does is that he calms the waters," Holland told ESPN.com.
Just as he did when he was a player. Holland recalled the first round of the 2002 playoffs when the Red Wings were down 2-0 in their series against Vancouver.
"He holds a team meeting. Basically the message was, 'We're a good team, stay calm. Concentrate on your business,'" Holland said. "We righted the ship, went on to win that series and won the Stanley Cup."
In Vancouver, from start to finish, Team Canada's players benefited from the GM's steady demeanor. I'll never forget Yzerman returning a phone call from this intrepid ESPN.com hockey writer on the eve of the gold-medal game and cracking a joke.
"Why do you want to talk to me? Is there a big game tomorrow or something?" Yzerman said then with a laugh.
When Canadians from coast to coast fretted (panicked?) after a preliminary-round loss to the United States, Yzerman spoke confidently about his team at a news conference the next day.
"Last night's game was a fantastic hockey game in which our hockey team played extremely well, outshooting the U.S. almost 2 to 1," Yzerman said on Feb. 22, 2010, as an entire nation hung on to his every word. "In general, I think we're very pleased with how we're playing. We're not necessarily thrilled that we're 2-1, but it is what it is. We're very encouraged. I think our players are playing hard and are very close. We're getting better with each game, and that was our goal, to improve with each game."
On Tuesday, Yzerman insisted that's exactly how he felt after the loss to the Americans.
"Losing to the U.S. wasn't that big a deal to us," Yzerman said. "We felt we played well in that game. Obviously you're not happy you lose; that's the sport, you can lose. We're fortunate it wasn't in an elimination game, but we felt we did a lot of good things in that game."
To the same extent, Yzerman wasn't doing cartwheels after Canada stunningly routed Russia in the quarterfinals.
"When we beat Russia, there wasn't a sense of, 'No problem, now we're good.' You're still nervous because anything can happen," he said.
Yzerman brought us back to the 1998 Nagano Games, when he played in his first of two Olympics for Canada. The Canadians looked oh-so-dominant in that tournament until they ran into Dominik Hasek in the semifinals. Tournament over.
"Even in that game against the Czechs, we played well, but we just lost," Yzerman said. "So you can never relax for a second in that tournament. It's hard to win. It's a struggle."
It's why Yzerman preached humility to the host nation at his news conference in the aftermath of Crosby's magical overtime goal in the gold-medal game on Feb. 28. It was no time to gloat.
"In general, as you travel around the world, Canadians are appreciated for being down-to-earth, humble people," Yzerman said Tuesday. "It was out of character a little bit to promote a campaign where we expected to win. It obviously worked out well for us, but I just don't think we can take winning for granted. As we found out, we were one goal away from not winning. It's difficult to win, and we should appreciate every time it happens."
That two-week knot in his stomach? Well worth it.
"I loved the entire experience," Yzerman said.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.