Gretzky thinks Team Canada is feeling pressure

Updated: February 20, 2006, 5:07 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

TORINO, Italy -- Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky just wants his struggling boys to have fun. And, oh yeah, he'd also like the young guys to step it up a bit. But have fun. And score. But mostly have fun. And win. Well, you get the point.

Shut out in consecutive games at the Olympics, and with just one preliminary-round game left before the medal playoffs, Gretzky told reporters Monday he thinks his talented, if underachieving, squad is feeling the pressure.

The 2-0 loss to Switzerland on Saturday was just one of those things, Gretzky said. But against the Finns the next night, Gretzky thought the Finns dominated the Canadians emotionally en route to a 2-0 victory.

"The Finns just looked like they were really enjoying the game and really just playing hard and letting the game come to them, and that seemed to be difference," Gretzky said. "So, what we've got to do is we've got to find a way to raise our intensity level and yet raise the enjoyment level. At the end of the day, it's hockey. If you're not enjoying the game and you're not having fun, it's hard to make a five-foot pass."

The Canadians were scheduled to meet with their families at a team function Monday afternoon, have a team meal, and then watch the Canadian women take on Sweden in the gold-medal game. Still, Gretzky acknowledged that telling players to relax is one thing, getting them to do so is another.

Gretzky's mid-Olympic state of the Canadian team chat with the media has become a kind of tradition.

Four years ago in Salt Lake City, an emotional Gretzky went on a rant before the end of the preliminary round, saying the world was against his team. They went on to win gold. This year, Gretzky was more reassuring.

"As we said, we need to get our guys re-energized and refocused on some of the things they need to do better as a team, and yet then also understand that this should be the greatest week of their lives and just enjoy that," Gretzky said.

Although the pressure on the Canadian team in 2002 was tremendous, Gretzky believes it's even greater in these Games.

"They want to do so well, I think. You can feel it in the locker room. You can see it in their eyes. We need to loosen them up. We need to have some fun out there," he said.

Coach Pat Quinn and the rest of the Canadian staff met with the eight returning players from the 2002 gold-medal team to talk about the differences between the two tournaments. Gretzky expects veterans, like captain Joe Sakic, Rob Blake and Martin Brodeur, will help calm the waters, but he also challenged the young players to step up.

"In '02, some of the young guys really stood up on the ice, [Jarome] Iginla came through and [Simon] Gagne came through, [Eric] Brewer came through, [Ed] Jovanovski," Gretzky said. "We need this young group now, they've got to step up, too. And I'm not trying to put extra pressure on them. We need these young guys to now take some pressure off the older guys. And that's what happened in '02."

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.