He had taken so many hockey shots before. None hurt like this one. It was the Olympics, it was overtime, a shoot-out, two teams, five men each, one goalie to beat.
He had the last shot, his country’s last hope in the sport it worshiped. Brendan Shanahan skated in on the goalie, a guy named Dominik Hasek, and faked, but it didn’t take. Hasek went with him, stopped the shot, the crowd roared, the Czechs had their upset, and that was the end of Canada’s 1998 gold medal dream.
Shanahan slumped. No single miss had ever hurt him as much. Never mind that it wasn’t his fault, that the others had missed, too, that a million twists and turns in the game could have kept it from coming down to him.
Never mind. He felt like the whole country was watching. In the tunnel after the game, he stood, his eyes locked on something invisible, cleared his throat, and this is what he said: “Hero or goat, I’d stand up and ask to take that shot again.”
The key word is “again.” It is a terribly important word for Olympians, it motivates them, it haunts them. Again. Do I get to try again? Will I make the team again?
Will I ever be here again? …
This week, the Canadian Olympic team announced its list of 34 invitees to training camp. It included stars such as Eric Lindros, who hasn’t played in more than a year, and Theo Fleury, who left the NHL last season to enter a substance-abuse program. The list also featured such young names as Brenden Morrow, 22, Alex Tanguay, 21, and Simon Gagne, 21.
Shanahan, 32, was not on the list. Vacationing on the East Coast, he got the news, and somewhere inside of him, his personal Olympic question had been answered. The question was: “Again?”
The answer was no.
Shanahan won’t complain about snub
I called Shanahan on Thursday. He was disappointed, but polite.
“When you look at the guys they’ve chosen, it’s a pretty fantastic group,” he said. “I would have liked a chance to go back, but I think there’s a lot of pressure on the people picking the team.
“They’re trying to pick the combination they think has the best chance of winning.”
He went on. To his credit, he would not complain.
So I will.
It is one thing to guarantee eight spots to the likes of Joe Sakic, Mario Lemieux, Chris Pronger and Steve Yzerman. It is another to invite a total of 34 players and not somehow give a nod to a guy who is young enough to make a difference, old enough to lend experience, and talented enough to have led one of the elite teams in hockey, the Red Wings, in scoring last season.
Wayne Gretzky, Team Canada’s executive director, is clearly looking for a blend of youth and familiarity (which may explain why a complete line of Philadelphia Flyers — Gagne, Mark Recchi and Keith Primeau — was chosen). That’s fine.
But he has players older than Shanahan (Recchi, Fleury, Scott Stevens, Joe Nieuwendyk), and he has only one other Red Wing (Yzerman), and he has guys like Lindros and Lemieux whose health issues are questionable at best.
Only five active players who played in Nagano were not chosen this time. Shayne Corson, Rob Zamuner, Rod Brind’Amour, Trevor Linden — and Shanahan.
No knock on the four others, but none of them scored more than 20 goals last season.
Shanahan, meanwhile, had 31 goals, 45 assists and played in 81 games.
And then there’s that little matter of redemption from 1998.
Or was that the problem?
Gretzky should do honorable thing
I asked Shanahan if he felt the failure in Nagano (Canada finished fourth) might somehow be staining his resume.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “We all felt terrible. But I didn’t feel the failure was on my shoulders. I was as disappointed as I would have been if I had been watching the shoot-out from the bench.
“Besides, I’ve seen a lot of good hockey players — better than me — left off Canada Cups and Olympics before.”
Fair enough. And others have a right to complain this time as well. But none of them is carrying the embers of the 1998 disappointment like Shanahan is. Gretzky, who was on that team as well, should know what it would mean to a veteran like Shanahan to get one more chance to make it right.
“There’s still a shot,” Shanahan said optimistically, noting that nothing is set in stone and players do get injured or drop out.
“If I don’t make it, I’ll be watching on TV, rooting. Am I disappointed? Sure.
“But it’s an honor to play for your country — not a right.”
That’s true. Then again, giving a second chance to a guy who poured his heart out last time — and who still has as much talent as most of the guys Team Canada selected — would have been both the honorable and right thing to do.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or email@example.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760) and simulcast on MSNBC 3-5 p.m.