Mendes: The most controversial Team Canada hockey snubs

When Team Canada’s Olympic roster is unveiled Tuesday morning, the selections and omissions will be heavily scrutinized by both fans and media in this country.

Mendes: The most controversial Team Canada hockey snubs
Aug 28/96: Mark Messier enjoys a joke while leaning on the boards prior to the start of a Team Canada practice at GM Place. (Province staff photo by Colin Price)

When Team Canada’s Olympic roster is unveiled Tuesday morning, the selections and omissions will be heavily scrutinized by both fans and media in this country.

And as the decision last week by USA Hockey to leave Ottawa Senators star winger Bobby Ryan behind showed, nothing gets the debate going like a high-profile snub.

Given the deep pool of hockey talent Canada possesses, there’s sure to be a handful of those when the players are announced. Of course, that’s nothing new to Team Canada. Over the years, team builders have had to make incredibly tough roster decisions. Here are seven of the most controversial roster omissions in our country’s hockey history.

1. Bobby Hull — 1972 Summit Series

The NHL agreed to allow its players to participate in the Summit Series against the Soviet Union on one condition: That all players from Team Canada were under NHL contract for the 1972-73 season. Bobby Hull was arguably the best forward on the planet, but just a few months before the event, he signed a lucrative contract with the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA and was thus ruled ineligible for selection to Team Canada for the 1972 series. Alan Eagleson lobbied hard for Hull’s inclusion on the team, but even a massive public outcry could not get the NHL to change its stance on not allowing WHA players to compete alongside their own stars. It’s worth noting that when the Canada Cup was staged in 1976, Hull was granted permission to suit up for Canada in that tournament — despite the fact he was still playing in the WHA. Had he been allowed to play in 1972, Hull may have helped Canada win that series against the Russians before it reached a pivotal Game 8.

2. Brett Hull — 1986 World Championship

Team Canada may have made a short-sighted decision when it opted not to take Brett Hull on its roster for the 1986 IIHF World Hockey Championship in the Soviet Union. The young sniper — who held dual Canadian and American citizenship — decided to join Team USA following the snub. He ended up scoring seven goals in 10 games for the Americans in that tournament and often cites the experience as a turning point in his career. The move cost Canada Hull’s services at premier international events for the next 15 years.

3. Steve Yzerman — 1987 and 1991 Canada Cups

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Steve Yzerman was often considered the third-best hockey player in the NHL behind Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Yet his reputation was not enough to impress Canadian head coach Mike Keenan, who cut the Red Wings star from his Canada Cup squads in both 1987 and 1991. Yzerman’s exclusion from the 1991 tournament may have been more painful, since management opted to take Eric Lindros ahead of him — even though the 18-year-old had never suited up for a single NHL game.

4. Patrick Roy — 1996 World Cup of Hockey

Patrick Roy’s omission from the Canadian squad at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey is especially baffling when you consider the Hall of Fame netminder was in the prime of his career. But when the team was named in early April, the brain trust decided to go with the trio of Bill Ranford, Curtis Joseph and Martin Brodeur. The managers probably regretted that decision only weeks later, as Roy guided the Colorado Avalanche to its first Stanley Cup championship. Meanwhile, Ranford’s Bruins were bounced in the first round while Brodeur and Joseph didn’t even make the playoffs. If the selections had been made in June, Roy would have been a lock.

5. Mark Messier — 1998 Olympics

When NHLers participated in their first Olympic Games in 1998, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Mark Messier would be a part of Team Canada alongside former teammate Wayne Gretzky. But when Hockey Canada revealed its roster two months before the Games, only the latter’s name was on the list. The decision was immediately panned because general manager Bobby Clarke had opted to select defensive specialist Rob Zamuner. Canada then failed to bring home a medal.

6. Sidney Crosby — 2006 Olympics

Sidney Crosby was the hero of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, but the Pittsburgh Penguins star was not included on the roster for the prior Olympics in Turin, Italy. Although he was only a rookie in that 2005-06 NHL season, Crosby ended up finishing sixth in league scoring with 102 points, and his offensive firepower would have been valuable. Canada again returned without a medal and was even blanked 2-0 by Switzerland in a round robin game.

7. Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos — 2010 Olympics

It’s ironic that Steve Yzerman is now their general manager in Tampa, but as the Canadian GM in 2010, he opted to leave both Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos off his roster for the Vancouver Olympics. St. Louis had been one of the most consistent and productive forwards in the five seasons leading up to the Winter Games, while Stamkos ended up scoring 50 goals in that 2009-10 campaign.

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