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September 21, 2017

Legends of Team Canada: Steve Tambellini


Prior to the 1988 Olympics, the International Olympic Committee decided to formally end the hypocrisy of "amateur" athletics and allow professionals to compete in sports such as hockey.
Now that did not mean Wayne Gretzky was going to Calgary for the Olympics. No, the National Hockey League would wait another decade before interrupting their schedule to allow all of it's high priced talent to compete on the world's biggest stage.
But it did mean, in theory anyway, that a pro player could compete at the Olympics if they somehow were granted permission to leave their employer during the season.
Team Canada officials quickly sought such opportunities. Eventually they secured a deal with the seven Canadian NHL clubs at the time whereby Canada would ask for a player to be loaned from each team, if they so chose. The NHL team would then grant or deny permission.
Ultimately Canada added former Canadian Olympian Tim Watters from Winnipeg on defense and veteran forwards Jim Peplinksi from Calgary and Steve Tambellini from Vancouver. All three were being used sparingly by their respective teams at the time.
Canada zeroed in on Tambellini quite quickly. Canadian assistant coach Tom Watt was very familiar with Tambellini from his days as head coach of the Canucks. He knew Tambellini could help Canada's chances.

Legends of Team Canada: Trent Yawney

Trent Yawney went on to become a solid NHL defender most notably with the Chicago Blackhawks. 
But there was a time when the lanky and towering native of Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan was the face of Dave King's Canadian Olympic team.
Few players were more committed to King and the national team. He skated three full seasons - almost all of it on the road - under the demanding King, culminating in his participation in the pressure packed home Olympics in Calgary. 
"Playing for Dave King and his coaching staff is like going to hockey school for three years," he said. "The assistants were just great.
"Tom Watt had a lot to offer about the defensive aspects of the game and Guy Charron helped prepare me for the NHL after the Olympics."
Yawney was no different than all Canadian Olympians on their way to NHL teams. He was full of praise for his technical knowledge of the sport and the solid preparation.
"There's really no way to repay a guy like that other than just going out and making it in the NHL," Yawney says. "Hopefully, I can stick up here and that will be good for him."
King's three year influence on Yawney was profound. Yawney was Chicago's third-round draft pick in 1984 from the Saskatoon Blades. Yawney was able to hone his skills after junior. Once a lumbering defenceman, his skating has improved and his puck handling, too.
"I had played a great deal in junior hockey and I felt I had some ability," Yawney said. "But even after three heavy seasons, I knew I wasn't close to being ready for the NHL. I just had too many things to learn and too much growing up to do."
"I made the decision to join the Olympic team and the Blackhawks backed me in my choice completely," Yawney said. "They knew I had a great deal to learn and playing on a team with a heavy schedule against top competition and a coach as good as Dave King was the best place to do it.
"Even when the Blackhawks might have used me along the way, they respected the commitment I had made to the Olympic team and put no pressure on me to give that up."
"I'm not saying that the Olympic team is perfect for everyone but for several guys on the team who are in the NHL now, it was ideal," Yawney said. "I not only had top coaching, especially in improving skills, and really top competition, but the travel and the way the players grew into such a close group helped me mature, too.
"The top-notch world competition helped me improve every day. When you get against those top players, it puts you in your place in a hurry. We improved and that was the key to my development. And, we practiced as much as we played. You can't help but improve."
Of course, Yawney, King and the gang came up short of their goal of an Olympic gold medal in Calgary. They stumbled through a 3-1 loss to Finland, all but ruining their chances of any medal. Canada finished fourth
"I spent three seasons with the Olympic team, focused completely on two weeks in Calgary in '88," Yawney said. "We had come so far as a team and then it was wiped out in one period. One lousy period had such a high price."
Yawney went onto a 600 game NHL career before becoming a coach himself. He continued to spread King's influence at many levels.

September 20, 2017

Legends of Team Canada: Petr Nedved


The 1994 Canadian Olympic team featured a sure-fire NHL sharpshooter to lead the Canadian team offensively.

And he wasn't even Canadian.

Correct that statement. He was newly Canadian.

Petr Nedved of the Czech Republic was holding out from the Vancouver Canucks in a contract dispute. The previous year he scored 38 goals for the Canucks and was a rising star in the NHL. 

He also acquired his Canadian citizenship and passport, something he still holds to this very day.

Looking for options to keep playing during his contract holdout, Nedved turned to the Canadian national team. Nedved had never represented the Czech Republic at international tournament at that point, so since he now had his Canadian citizenship he was ruled eligible to play for Canada.

It was not the first time Nedved made international headlines. 

As a 17 year old junior player with Litvinov, he made a daring decision that most of us can not even comprehend. While playing in Calgary at the Mac's Major Midget tournament, Nedved slipped into the night carrying nothing but his hockey bag. He had defected on January 2nd, 1989, with dreams of playing in the National Hockey League.

"The defection, that night, is something I'll remember the rest of my life. It was the biggest decision I ever had to make. I thought about staying even before I left for the tournament but I wasn't sure and I didn't know really what to expect. There were a lot of questions I was asking myself. Am I able to go back home? Will my parents be okay with my brother? I was almost more scared for my family than me. But I knew I wanted to play in the National Hockey League and, other than that, I didn't know much ... there were a lot of unknowns. Looking back now I'm surprised I was able to make that decision," Nedved told the Calgary Herald years later.

The center of an international dispute, Nedved hid out in Calgary for 5 months while he waited for his landed immigrant status.

All eyes were on the spindly Czech kid who did nothing to hide his fascination with Wayne Gretzky. He emulated him in every way. He tucked in his shirt the same, wore the same Jofa helmet, and copied his hunched over skating style. He'd fly down the win, curl at the blue line looking for an amazing pass, although he really should have been more greedy and use his laser of a shot more often.

Nedved tore up the Western Hockey League with 65 goals and 145 points in 71 games. His offense was undeniable. He had the creativity and vision of #99. He was a game breaker through and through. He had already showed more courage than any other player possibly could.

The Canucks drafted Nedved second overall in the 1990 NHL Draft, but did not really not what to do with him. He made the NHL team immediately, but he was too slight to make an impact. But sending him back to junior was not an option either, as he was too good for that league, and he had no other place to play. So the Canucks coddled him on the 4th line. To this day many believe Nedved's development was stagnated by this decision. He probably should have been returned to junior, even if the WHL offered no competition.

Nedved, despite glimpses of brilliance, never really found his way in the NHL until his third season, when he scored 38 goals and 71 points, despite getting next to no prime power play time. You see, by now the Canucks had secured Pavel Bure. With his 60 goals and explosive skating, the Russian Rocket became the offensive dynamo Vancouver was looking for. Nedved was second fiddle. The Canucks were trying to change his game to more of a two way game, as his Gretzky-mirroring did not mesh well with the puck-hogging Bure.

The Canucks were knocked out of the 1993 playoffs by Gretzky's L.A. Kings. At the conclusion of the final game Nedved sheepishly asked The Great One for his stick. That would prove to be Nedved's final act in Vancouver.

Showing the same resolve that he used to defect to Canada as a teenager, the principled Nedved held out in a contract dispute. The two sides were far apart in terms of money, but rumors had Nedved unhappy in Vancouver and demanding to be traded.

Interestingly, Nedved would stay in the news that season. He had gained his Canadian citizenship, and since he never play for the Czech national team, he was allowed to play with the Canadian national team that season. Wearing number 93 for the year he gained citizenship, he and Paul Kariya would lead Canada to a silver medal in the Olympics in the days before full NHL participation.


"The thing is, I feel Canadian. Canada is my home, for now and forever," Nedved said, who still does maintain a residence in Vancouver all these years later, though he primarily lives in the Czech Republic. "I wanted to be free, and Canada has made it possible. I am thankful to the country."

"This is not a marriage of convenience," insisted Canadian director of hockey operations George Kingston. "From the beginning it was clear Petr wanted to be an Olympian because he wanted to do something for Canada. Playing for Canada is a win-win situation for everybody."

With Nedved and up-and-coming phenom Paul Kariya leading the way, the 1994 Canadian team had something most Olympic teams of the past did not have - game breaking offensive stars. 

Canada's hopes of finally bringing home Olympic gold lied in the hands of a Czech defector. It almost worked, too, but Canada lost the gold medal game to Sweden in a memorable shootout goal by Peter Forsberg.

Nedved had opened the shootout with a goal, and shot again before Forsberg's winner. Nedved missed on what could have been the game winning goal for Canada.

"When I went to shovel the puck in, it just got too far ahead of me and I couldn't reach it. I had the win on my stick," said a dejected Nedved. 

That's how close Nedved came from being the greatest Canadian hockey hero since Paul Henderson.

Following the Olympics his NHL future was finally solved. He would go onto enjoy good seasons in Pittsburgh and New York before bouncing around the league. 

In 2007 his NHL career came to an end, but not his puck-chasing days. He returned home to the politically stable Czech Republic and played for many more seasons. 

In fact, he even was given special permission to play for the Czech Republic Olympic team at the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi, some 20 years after playing for Canada at Lillehammer.


"I never thought, after 20 years, I would go back to the Olypics. This is a nice way to end my career."

Legends of Team Canada: Tim Watters



Though he played in 2 Olympics and well over 700 NHL games, Tim "Muddy" Watters quietly had a nice career by playing a solid though unspectacular role from 1981 through 1995 with the Winnipeg Jets and Los Angeles Kings - two teams that didn't enjoy much success or fanfare in those days.

Just 5'11 and 185 lbs, Watters learned to play an intelligent game in the National Hockey League. He learned to be in perfect position and angled shooters out of harm's way, as there was little chance he could out muscle many of the incoming attackers. He read the oncoming rushes very well, and thanklessly cut off passing lanes and blocked shots.

Physically he learned to tie up players sticks and was one of the few modern players to master the hip check.

And though his quiet style hid it, he had a decent package of skills. He was a very good skater. And he could carry the puck out of his own zone or headman a breakout pass equally well. However his defensive posturing meant he rarely attempted much in the offensive zone.

Born in Kamloops BC, Watters played with the hometown Blazers for one year before bolting major junior hockey in Canada for NCAA college hockey with Michigan Tech in 1977. He played there for three years, helping the Huskies win a NCAA championship in 1981.

His tenure with the Huskies was interrupted during the 1979-80 season when he left school to play with the Canadian National Team. Making that team all but assured Watters a chance to represent his country at the 1980 Olympics, which he did - scoring 2 points in 6 games.

After graduating from college Watters turned pro in 1981 with the Jets, who drafted him back in 1979. Over the next 6 years the likable Watters became a mainstay on the Jets blue line.

During the 1987-88 season Watters became a bit of a spare part in Winnipeg. The Jets released him to play with the Canadian Olympic team during the 1988 Calgary Olympics, another definite highlight of Watters career. Randy Gregg and Ken Berry were 1980 alum back for another Olympics.


"It was a great year for me in 1980 and, without it, I would never have had the confidence to reach the NHL," he added. "Now I want to be part of the puzzle Dave King's putting together."

"This team is much better prepared than 1980, and that's not a knock at the '80 coaching staff. It's just that there's a much larger support staff this time and the whole program seems so well organized."

Thought Watters, like fellow NHL loaners was parachuted in, he felt welcomed immediately.

"I feel very, very comfortable with this team," he added. "There's a little more skating and puck control involved here, which makes this much different from the Canada Cup (played) in smaller rinks."

"There's a definite transition change from the NHL to this," Watters said. "I'll have to use my head, the experience, to make the adjustment to the bigger ice surface."

Unfortunately for Watters and all of Team Canada, a second chance at the Olympics did not result in a podium finish. When asked what his Olympic highlights were Watters is quick to mention both opening cermonies.

After that season, feeling that his best hockey was behind him, the Jets let Watters go as a free agent. He signed quickly with the Los Angeles Kings. Tim enjoyed 2 solid years with Wayne Gretzky's Kings. By 1990 Tim became a spare part in Los Angeles too. But he continued to play for parts of 5 more years, acting almost as an on-ice coach, helping the Kings younger defensemen along. He also spent some time in the minor leagues, doing a similar job.

Watter's contributions to his team were usually of the unnoticeable and thankless variety. It is because of players like that that teams win. So you can be rest assured that Watters coaches and teammates noticed his work, and thanked him on a nightly basis.

September 19, 2017

Legends of Team Canada: Allain Roy


One would think Canada's chances of winning a gold medal at an Olympics in 1990s would be pretty good if a goalie with the last name Roy was on the team.

It did not work out that way in 1998 or in 1994.

In 1998, of course, Patrick Roy backstopped a Canadian Dream Team in the first ever NHL Olympics, however the team lost the bronze medal game and went home empty handed.

The 1994 won the silver medal, and they did that with no NHL superstars. They had a goalie named Allain Roy donning the pads and mask.

Allain Roy - who is of no relation to Patrick Roy - may have won a silver medal, but he never got to play in the Olympics. Neither did Manny Legace, as both goalies backed up starter Corey Hirsch who played every minute of every game.

In fact Allain Roy never played a minute of action for Team Canada that entire season. He had been brought in from Jokerit of Finland where he had been playing.

Roy was brought in to basically serve as the third goalie in case of injury. He had previously played the 1992-93 season with the Canadian national team.

Before that he led Harvard the NCAA championship and was an all star goaltender while majoring in history.

Roy briefly played at low levels of minor leagues and even had a short call up to the Winnipeg Jets but he never played in the NHL.

He settled in the St. Louis area and became a prominent NHL player's agent.

Legends of Team Canada: Chris Felix

The two most season performers for the 1988 Canadian Olympic hockey team were defensemen Trent Yawney and Chris Felix. They had both fully committed to the Canadian national team program way back in 1985, with Serge Roy joining shortly thereafter, and remained right through the entirety of the Calgary Olympics.
Felix was from Bramalea, Ontario and was a two time OHL all star with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.  In his final year of junior the defenseman scored 29 goals and 101 points and helped his team achieve a record 33-0 win streak. Yet somehow he was never drafted by a NHL team.
So Felix jumped to Dave King's national team program and became one of the team's steadiest performers playing well over 200 international matches in his tenure. 
His ice time was limited by the time the Olympics finally arrived. NHL veterans Randy Gregg and Tim Watters - both previous Olympians - were counted on heavily. Same went for Yawney and young Zarley Zalapski, both of whom were destined for long NHL careers. 
Felix competed with Tony Stiles and Serge Roy for ice time on the third pairing. Stiles suffered two concussions during the tourney, allowing Felix to score a goal and assist on two others in six contests.
Felix signed with the Washington Capitals organization immediately following the Olympics. He would spend four years with the Caps, playing primarily in the minor leagues but also appearing in 35 career games, scoring once and adding 12 assists.
Tired of the AHL, Felix, like so many other Canadian National Team members, sought adventure in the pro leagues in Europe. He played in Germany, Finland and Switzerland.
Late in his career he returned to North America to play in the low minor leagues in the southern United States.
When he finally ended his vagabond hockey career days he returned to Sault Ste. Marie and coached youth hockey for many years.

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