DENVER Alex Tanguay has pretty typical plans for someone with two weeks off from his job. He’s going to get away from his work, relax and spend some time on vacation — “Someplace sunny,” he said. But Tanguay doesn’t have the usual last-day-of-school excitement that most feel as time off approaches after losing to Detroit 6-3 Sunday. A forward for the Colorado Avalanche, Tanguay would rather be going to the Olympics in Turin, Italy, to represent his native Canada in hockey. Nine of his Avalanche teammates will be there playing for their respective countries — in- cluding Canadians Joe Sakic and Rob Blake. But Tanguay, who leads the Avalanche in scoring, was one of several notable players snubbed by his homeland. “It was disappointing,” he said. “But there’s nothing I could do. It was their decision, not mine.” Still, it was a decision that hurt. Asked if he would be rooting for Canada, Tanguay paused. “Uhhh, we’ll see,” he said. “I’ll be rooting for Rob (Blake) and Joe (Sakic).” The NHL will take a two-week break to accommodate players competing in the Olympics — the Avalanche will not play until Feb. 28. And although the break affords players not competing in the Olympics valuable time to rest for the stretch run, most players, like Tanguay, would much rather play on the world’s biggest stage than take a vacation. “The only guys that are going to turn it down are the guys that are hurting,” Sakic said. “But if you’re healthy to go, I can’t think of anybody who would turn it down.” Sakic would know. He and Blake have played in two previous Olympic competitions — 1998 and 2002, when Canada won the gold medal. Sakic, the Most Valuable Player of the 2002 competition, will serve as Canada’s captain. “It’s a great honor and a privilege,” Sakic said. “I’m looking forward to it.” There will be an Avalanche representative for eight of the 12 countries in Olympic hockey competition. In addition to Sakic and Blake, three Avalanche players are Olympic veterans. Forward Milan Hejduk helped the Czech Republic win the gold medal in 1998, and he also participated in 2002. Goalie David Aebischer (Switzerland) and defenseman Karlis Skrastins (Latvia) both played in 2002, as did defenseman Ossi Vaananen (Finland), who was selected to play this year but will not due to an ankle injury he suffered Feb. 2. Colorado players competing in the Olympics for the first time are: goalie Peter Budaj (Slovakia), forward Antti Laaksonen (Finland), defenseman John-Michael Liles (USA) and forward Marek Svatos (Slovakia). Goalie Vitaly Kolesnik (Kazakhstan), who played in seven games for the Avalanche before being re-assigned to Lowell of the American Hockey League, also will be competing in the Olympics for the first time. Canada, which won the 2004 World Cup, seems to be the favorite with forwards Jarome Iginla (Calgary) and Dany Heatley (Ottawa) and goalie Martin Brodeur (New Jersey) joining Sakic and Blake. “It’s a different team, but it’s mostly guys who were on the World Cup in ’04 that we won,” Sakic said. Sweden, led by former Avalanche star Peter Forsberg, also should be in the hunt along with Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Finland. The United States is considered a long shot to win gold, but that’s fine with Liles. “In Salt Lake (during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games), it was hard being the home team and being one of the favorites,” Liles said. “I think that’s a lot of pressure. I don’t think anybody on our team believes that we should be underdogs, and I think everybody’s shooting for gold.” Liles said that when he was younger, he met Mike Eruzione, one of the heroes of the U.S. 1980 gold-medal-winning hockey team — the “Miracle on Ice.” He has watched tapes of the legendary victory over Russia many times. “That always gives me goose bumps,” he said. None of the Avalanche will have much time to get in sync with his countrymen. The Olympic hockey competition starts Wednesday. Sakic said Canada will practice once in Toronto and once in Italy before the start of the Games. Hejduk said he is not getting to Italy until Tuesday, so he might have “one morning skate” with his team before a game. “It’s going to be tougher, but every team is going through the same thing,” Hejduk said. “You can’t use it as an excuse.” Each country will play five preliminary games in seven days. Eight teams will advance to the quarterfinals the next day — meaning eight teams will play six games in eight days — and the semifinals, bronze- and gold-medal games will follow. Having 10 players endure that type of schedule seems like a distinct disadvantage for a Colorado team in the midst of a playoff push. But Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville knows his players consider the games too much of a privilege to skip. “I look on the bright side of it,” Quenneville said. “Everybody gets a chance to represent their countries, it’s great exposure, it’s going to be a great experience for them. And the experience when they come back, we can use it in our favor as we go along here. . . . And we’ll look at individual cases when they come back — who might need a rest.” Tanguay likely will be rested and ready. And somewhat disappointed that he is. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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