NHL players here - let Games begin

Mon Feb 15, 2010 2:05am EST
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By Steve Keating

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The Vancouver Winter Olympics opening ceremony was on February 12 but for most Canadians the Games will officially begin on Tuesday with the start of men's ice hockey competition.

After the National Hockey League shut down for the Olympic break on Sunday, the world's top players began to flood into Vancouver for what many are already calling the greatest hockey tournament of all-time.

With Canada having claimed an elusive first home gold medal on Sunday, the arrival of Sidney Crosby and his team mates is sure to grab the spotlight.

Hockey Canada executive director Steve Yzerman arrived in Vancouver before his squad and immediately moved to deflect the immense pressure on his team by tipping Russia to win the gold medal.

But Team USA manager Brian Burke was not buying that and neither were 33 million hockey-mad Canadians who believe their team is the one to beat.

"Stevie (Yzerman) is a real smart guy and he's trying to take some pressure off Team Canada," Burke told reporters. "I don't know who's taking bets on this tournament but there's a book somewhere and the money is going to be on Canada.

"I might mention that it (pressure) is glacial, unremitting and unrelenting. I cannot imagine how they are going to function in this environment but they'll find a way.

"The pressure started to build on Canada the day Vancouver got the bid."   Continued...

<p>A man wears a hockey goaltender's outfit while awaiting the Olympic torch relay to pass, before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics February 12, 2010. REUTERS/Lyle Stafford</p>