Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger acknowledges there is more pressure on Team Canada's hockey team this season, but he isn't sure if the main reason is because the Winter Olympics are in the players' homeland - or because the team faltered so badly in the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy.
"There's been a lot of buildup with the games being in Vancouver and being on home soil," Pronger, who will serve as an alternate captain, said the other day. "But whether it's Vancouver or not, if you don't come back with the gold, you hear, 'What's wrong with Canadian hockey?' "
Pronger, a 6-foot-6, 213-pound veteran who is preparing to play in his fourth Olympics, let out a hearty laugh as he tried to mask the disappointment his hockey-crazed country felt after the 2006 Games.
Team Canada's performance that year was downright stunning: a 3-3 record, three shutout losses, and its poorest Olympic finish ever - seventh place.
Hence, the creation of this year's "Redeem Team."
"It's a new start for us," said Pronger. "It's a chance for us to rectify all that went wrong with our team the last time. The Olympic experience for us that year was a [disappointment] from day one. It was just funky the way our team performed and the way everything transpired. It was just an odd tournament, and I think everyone is looking forward to coming away with a lot better effort."
Pronger will be joined on Team Canada by Flyers teammate Mike Richards, who was ecstatic when he learned he was going to be a first-time Olympian.
"I remember after the pregame skate just getting chills when I heard the message, a voice mail, from [Team Canada associate director] Ken Holland," Richards said. "I just started thinking about it again this week, getting prepared for it and getting things together."
Asked about his expectations, Richards said, "Winning is the main thing. You want to go in there with the mind-set of winning. It is going to take a lot, obviously. There will be a lot of great teams there."
There is a chance that Flyer Jeff Carter could be added in the next day or so if some of Team Canada's injured players don't improve.
Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen will play for Finland and Oskars Bartulis will play for Latvia.
The Olympics will open tomorrow. NHL teams will play games through Sunday, then break for the Olympics. The first men's games will be Tuesday.
Canada and the United States will play at 7:40 p.m. Feb. 21. The gold medal game will be Feb. 28, the last event on the Olympic schedule.
Pronger said that, because hockey is Canada's pastime, "there's always pressure on us to win. It's no different than any other year . . .. And being citizens of Canada and patriotic, we feel we should win, too. We have high expectations, and with that comes a lot of pressure. Being in Vancouver, a little more is added, but a little bit more isn't going to make or break you."
Canada, Russia, and defending champion Sweden are rated as the top contenders.
Pronger, 35, has been there for the best and worst of times for Team Canada. He was 27 when Canada won the gold medal at Salt Lake City in 2002.
He said he is just as excited to play in this year's Olympics as he was as a 23-year old in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.
"It's always a tremendous honor to represent your country," Pronger said. "You have to soak in the environment, soak it in until the end. Enjoy the moment. And it's a chance to see the rest of the Canadian athletes [in other sports] and the athletes from other countries - and compare and see how they get ready for their various events. It's kind of neat to see them beaming when they've won . . .. or disappointed when they've lost. You can understand how they feel."
Pronger said he feels compassion for the plight of Olympians from other sports, whose primary focus might be the Olympics, while many NHL players hope to win a Stanley Cup.
A lot of the athletes in other sports "spend four years training and struggling to get to the Olympic Games, and it's tough when you see some of them on Day One and they don't perform up to their abilities and have a tough time," Pronger said. "It's a tough two weeks to hang around the Olympic village when you don't reach expectations. You feel for people like that. We're there for two weeks and we get to see the highs and lows that are there."
He paused and flashed a gap-toothed grin.
"You hope to be on the high end," he said.
Pronger realizes that, at his age, this could be his final chance at an Olympic medal. If so, he wants to go out with a gold.
"It would be a fitting possible end to an Olympic career for me," he said. "But I don't think we can get too far ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of work to do once we get there. There's probably seven or eight teams that have a legitimate shot. There's going to be a lot of talent, and a lot of teams are hungry after Italy."
No one will be hungrier than Canada.