Q. Just wanted to know, Wayne, you said your team played three exhibition games, do you feel they are ready to start the tournament, and how important is defense against USA?
WAYNE GRETZKY: Well, first of all, we feel really good about where our team is at this point. Throughout the tournament, we decided to use eight defensemen in the exhibition game to give everyone a chance to participate and get a chance to be in the lineup.
Now that we're in the tournament, we'll only play six defensemen. I think that will help our defense to be more involved in the play and get more ice time. You're going to see the coaching staff utilize the players who are playing well a little bit more. When you're playing an exhibition, you're kind of letting everyone get an opportunity. And our guys played hard and played well but now it's a different story. We are in a tournament, and at this level, you play your best players.
Tomorrow night is a very important game. We realize that the U.S. Team is a very strong hockey club, very experienced team and the thing you have to realize in this tournament is the first game is not the most important one. The most important game is the last one. As far as this team goes, it's young. And to get some momentum and to get some confidence, that makes tomorrow's game even that much more important.
Q. Any cause for concern that there is still a bit of experimenting, especially on the different lines, different line combinations again? Should that be a cause of concern, or is that because the Round Robin games in the beginning are not that important?
WAYNE GRETZKY: Well, I don't think it's a cause for concern. We are not in a situation where we feel we haven't played well; that's not the case. Quite contrarily, some guys have done maybe more than we expected.
So we've tried to move guys around, get a better understanding for each other and try to find what makes the perfect setup this team. These lines will probably change again over the next few days. At this point in time, that's what the coaching staff came up with. I know that the line in Salt Lake of Sakic, Gagne and Mogilny were so good that people maybe just expected them to be back together. But Gagne is such a tremendous two-way player that watching the videos and with the coaches talking, they feel very confident with him playing the left side with those other two guys. We have a lot of good players and moving around to fine that perfect combination, and like I said, things will still change.
Q. Wayne, there's been a lot of focus on Lemieux's presence on this team. Wondering if it's fair to expect him to be able to do now the things that he's done in the past, or should the focus be more on some of the younger guys who have proven themselves in the NHL to this point?
WAYNE GRETZKY: Well, the best players in the game want the responsibility of being the best player. Mario is the best player in the game. He's a tremendous leader for us. He does so many good things not only on the ice, but in the locker room and with the players. The reality is the game has changed from now back to '87. It's a lot tighter checking. The players are better today than they were 15 years ago. So, that makes it harder for him just in that fact. We can't rely solely on Mario to carry this team. We're not relying on that.
We know we have a lot of other weapons and you look at other players, like Joe Sakic and you look at St. Louis and Richards; these guys are the legitimate big-game players. What you want to do with your best players is, it doesn't matter how many goals and assists they get, but when they get goals and assists. The best players get them at the most important times, and that's when we need those guys to come through.
Q. Do you feel that you're the favorites; do you want to be the favorites?
WAYNE GRETZKY: You know, to me, it doesn't matter. We've got to go play. In one sense we are a favorite because we won a gold medal in 2002. We are playing in our home country, these games, so obviously that gives us an advantage.
What we lack, though, is experience and this is a relatively young hockey team compared to the other teams. We'll take the pressure of being the favorite that doesn't bother us. But saying that we have a great deal of respect for the other teams in this tournament starting tomorrow night. I think the Americans are ready to play, they want to beat us. I think that players like Chris Chelios and his leadership over there goes a long way. So we'd better be ready to play tomorrow night and we are; I believe we are ready.
Q. You guys were pretty much conspired favorites coming in, considering how the injury situation has changed, are you considered more of a favorite than you were two weeks ago?
WAYNE GRETZKY: Well, it doesn't matter what I think. It doesn't matter what other people think. You have to get on the ice and participate and play and the best team wins. So it really doesn't matter or concern me what people are saying or who thinks who is the favorite. The bottom line is you have to play.
Tomorrow night you're going to two very good hockey clubs play a very hard physical game. The team that wants it more than the other team is going to win tomorrow night.
Q. Lacavalier joined the team in July in the exhibition game last week, pretty solid, I would like to have your comments about him and also can you tell us so that he may get on the team?
WAYNE GRETZKY: I think any time you take this team, it's hard, there's so many good players. The timing is the naming of the players. I don't understand why we can't wait till after the Stanley Cup Finals. A guy like Vinny, he just got better in every game and every series, and he earned his way on to this team.
When I called him to tell him that we had chosen him to be part of this team, I told him exactly what I meant; that Jarome Iginla was not picked in '02, and was called at midnight and drove down to Edmonton 3:00 in the morning and got on the ice at 7:00 and everybody knows the rest is history; went on and got a medal. I said, "Don't come in with a mind set that you're an addition to this team. You're going to be a part of this team and you're going to be a big role in this."
He's played very well. He's got better every game, he's been good each night, you can see him, he loves to play the game he plays with a lot of heart and he plays hard and he's a big-game player. He's proven that. We expect big things out of him in this tournament. He's one of our go-to guys, no question.
Q. Big difference from Salt Lake City, you have more players on your roster and the roster is small. What's the process going on over the next 24 hours or 36 hours to inform players are who not playing, and how difficult is it to tell six guys that they won't be dressed?
WAYNE GRETZKY: Well, that's the hardest part of this whole process. The best part is picking the players and the worst part is telling basically five players they are not going to play tonight.
We'll meet this afternoon. Tonight we have a players team meeting, and at that team meeting, we'll talk to the players about what the final lineup is for the game tomorrow night. We obviously expect disappointment out of these guys. They are great players and that's why they are here.
We also will tell them that the tournament is not over. You know, long way to go and likelihood of everyone getting in at some point and being part of this is probably going to happen. So that's what we'll try to explain to the players tonight.
Q. Considering the age of your team, can you talk about the value of having so many players that played in the World Hockey Championships in the last two years, and in the case of the Lightning, winning the Stanley Cup this year?
WAYNE GRETZKY: I think the greatest thing about playing obviously is winning, and you can't replace that experience with anything. Canadian players have started to put more of an importance on the World Championships in the sense that as soon as they lose, they are called, they want to go play and they don't go only on the basis of if they are injured.
We've gone over there two years in a row, competed as hard as anyone in the tournament and came away with two golds. And quite frankly, the guys who are part of that learned exactly what it takes to win.
And as you said the other guys in Tampa Bay who won a Stanley Cup in touch a tremendous fashion coming from behind 3-2, and so all of those guys become part of this team, and an important part of this team, because they know what it takes to win. And so we feel fortunate. We have got a lot of guys who love to play, but they also love to win even more. We are pretty happy. Although we are young, we like our group of players.
Q. It would be difficult to recover from obviously a loss of two of the best defensemen in the world, in Pronger and Blake, does that change things in terms of what was the initial game-plan in the face of this team, would you like to see them play a little bit tighter in order to compensate for that?
WAYNE GRETZKY: Well, you don't replace Pronger and Blake, first of all. We know that.
But what we also have stressed, and it's important that each guy knows, and I think they understand this fully, you talk about all the offense you want and all the great players that you want, but ultimately team defense and team discipline wins championships, and these guys know that. Guys like Sakic and guys like Vinny and guys like Mario, they commit to playing defense, and defense is a team defense, not just your defensemen. We feel comfortable with that. We know our players understand that. We've worked on that for the last ten days. So we're a day away from starting and quite frankly, I think our players are ready to get into some real competition now and play a different level. They have had a tremendous camp and worked extremely hard. It's a really focused group of players who want nothing but to win. I think the fans in North America are in for a great treat. They are two pretty good hockey teams playing tomorrow night.