December 28, 2004
Canadians are in class of their ownCan anyone challenge these guys?
By PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Calling all hockey-playing nations: will somebody please stand up and give these guys a game? This is getting a little ridiculous.
It began with a pair of pre-tournament games in Winnipeg, a combined 11-0 Team Canada whitewash that finished the Finns and made the Swiss look like they were playing with swizzle sticks.
Along came the tournament, the start of the real competition on Christmas Day -- or so we thought.
Two games into that, we're still waiting for somebody to supply the opposition.
The Slovaks went down 7-3 in Game 1, in which the Canadians hardly broke a sweat, admitting they only really played somewhere around 40 minutes.
Yesterday, it was the Swedes, the other team expected to give Canada a run in Group B.
Final score, 8-1. Final shots, 46-17. Both numbers flattered the losers.
If this were a football game, head coach Brent Sutter would have been accused of running up the score.
Team Canada was led, once again, by captain Michael Richards who came through on a pre-game promise to "hit anything that moves," and if he wasn't doing that he was killing penalties or wreaking havoc around the Swedish net.
"That was our goal -- play a full 60 minutes and see what damage we could do with it," Richards said.
The Canucks pre-game reading obviously included the popular text, How To Demoralize An Overmatched Opponent.
Chapter One: score early, as Jeff Carter did 2:28 in, on a Canadian power play.
Chapter Two: start laying the body, as Jeremy Colliton did on Swedish forward Linus Persson, who left the ice looking like he wanted to curl up in his favourite blanket.
Defenceman Dion Phaneuf hit one Swede so hard, the guy bounced like a domino into Colliton, taking out the hard-luck Canadian forward yet again.
By the end of the second period it was 5-1, shots were 29-9 and the Swedes were treating the puck like it was one of those glass paperweights they've been handing out at The Ralph.
At one point, Swedish coach Torgny Bendelin even tried calling a timeout to settle things down.
"You have to do things to try to change the picture of the game," a beleaguered Bendelin explained later. "We tried to change the goalie, too, and that didn't help, either."
Not when every Canadian player had Sutter's words from the day before burning in their ears.
"It's keeping your foot on the pedal all the time," Sutter explained again last night.
So instead of letting the Swedes back up, as they'd done with the Slovaks Christmas Day, the Canucks greeted the new goalie with two more goals in the first 46 seconds of the third.
Any thoughts the Swedes had of getting back in it vanished.
"That was a sign we weren't going to make it any easier on them," Winnipeg's Nigel Dawes said.
Which brings us back to the question of who will give this team its first challenge?
"Anyone," Richards began. "If we get lazy."
And if they don't, you think the Germans have a hope tonight? The Finns, two days later?
It's becoming painfully obvious Group B at this World Junior is just that, aside from Canada.
"By no means is this going to be a cakewalk," goaltender Jeff Glass insisted. "It hasn't come easy."
At the same time, Glass admitted playing behind this group is "something special."
No, you can give this team first place in its pool right now.
The only question that remains is, what happens in the medal round, when Canada will face the U.S., or Russia, or the Czechs?
Presumably, they'll get their first real battle.
And we'll see a side of this team we haven't seen yet.