Canadian Olympic assistant coach: Not easy to leave Tampa Bay Lightning's Lecavalier, St. Louis, Stamkos off team

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The decision to leave Lightning players Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos off Canada's Olympic team was not easy, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.

"Their names were mentioned a lot," the Canadian assistant coach said Wednesday.

"There were probably 30 players, some that weren't even at the (summer orientation) camp, that got into the debate. … There were just a lot of players in that bubble category. You could have taken any one and you wouldn't have been wrong."

Asked if he advocated for St. Louis and Stamkos, whom he coached at last year's world championship, Ruff said only, "I was really impressed with both players, and I think Marty is one hell of a competitor."

"It's definitely nice to know he thought highly of us," Stamkos said. "For him to say that means a lot. It was fun playing for him."

Lecavalier, too, said he appreciated knowing he was an integral part of the discussion led by team executive director Steve Yzerman.

Still, "it doesn't make us part of the team," he said. "That's something (St. Louis and I) looked forward to since the last Olympics. I worked really hard this summer and wanted to be part of this team. That was one of my goals, and when you don't achieve them, it's disappointing."

DEBT SERVICE: A crumpled $100 bill was taped to Jeff Halpern's locker, payment from teammate Steve Downie for a friendly wager tied to Tuesday's world junior championship gold-medal game.

Downie, of Newmarket, Ontario, opened his wallet because the United States beat Canada 6-5 in overtime. Halpern is from Potomac, Md.

"It's a big deal," said Downie, who won gold with Canada in 2006. "When you're that age, it's everything. One of the highest points in your junior career is winning that.

"It's disappointing for (Canada) not to pull through, but I thought they showed a lot of heart and determination coming back from two goals (down late in the third period). It's unfortunate they couldn't finish it off."

HOME FRONT: This is a difficult time for G Antero Niittymaki to be away. Daughter Alina, born Dec. 26, six weeks premature, is still in a Tampa hospital.

"Good thing it's not a 12-day road trip," Niittymaki said. "It's just five days, so that's better."

Niittymaki said his parents are in town to help wife Miina, who also is tending to the couple's other kids, Aatu, 4, and Frida, 3.

"There's nothing really wrong with her; she's just young," Niittymaki said of Alina, who was 5 pounds, 3 ounces at birth but is getting "bigger and stronger."

"A little bit more and she can come home," Niittymaki said. "I just feel sorry for my wife. She has to take care of two kids and go to the hospital."

ODDS AND ENDS: Halpern (lower body) could play Saturday against the Flyers, coach Rick Tocchet said, though it sounded iffy. … LW Todd Fedoruk (right knee) could begin skating this weekend. … Defensemen Matt Walker and David Hale were scratched. … Former Lightning F Martin Cibak, who plays for Spartak Moscow of Russia's KHL, was named to the Slovakian Olympic team.

Canadian Olympic assistant coach: Not easy to leave Tampa Bay Lightning's Lecavalier, St. Louis, Stamkos off team 01/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 9:30pm]

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