December 31, 2004
And it all means...nothingCanucks haven't won anything yet
By PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- One by one, they've made their way up to the podium here at the Ralph Engelstad Arena and showered post-game praises on Team Canada. First the Slovaks, then the Swedes, then the Germans, all mightily impressed with this latest version of our world junior team.
They were happy simply to be on the same ice surface, they said. Thrilled just to be able to learn from this hockey power.
Last night, it was Finland assistant coach Petri Matikainen's turn, after his team was throttled, 8-1.
"I've talked to my coaches and other staff," Matikainen began. "And this Canadian team seems to be the best we have seen. It was nice to see how the game should be played."
Actually, this hasn't been how the game should be played. A game implies competition, and we're still waiting for that.
That's four straight Canadian wins now, with a combined score of 32-5 -- pretty much an average spread of a converted touchdown per game.
The Canucks have had 105 more shots on goal than their opponents.
They've yet to trail in a game -- of the 240 minutes played, they've held the lead for more than 205.
In the process, they've made respected hockey nations like Sweden and Finland look like they're playing with floor-hockey sticks.
They have the tournament's top offence, its most punishing defence and a couple of interchangeable goaltenders who can both pitch a shutout at you.
This was going to be the nation's best junior team in at least a decade, we were told, possibly one of the best, ever -- and, for once, the hype appears justified.
But ask Winnipeg's Nigel Dawes what Team Canada has accomplished through the round robin, and he'll quickly infuse a much-needed dose of reality.
"Nothing," Dawes said. "Nothing at all. I mean, we have a bye and it gives us an extra day off to heal some wounds. But other than that, nothing at all."
An extra day off. To rest, to heal and to remember.
Or maybe, to forget.
I wonder if Dawes and the other 11 returning members of Team Canada will have flashbacks to last year's tournament. Flashbacks to the horrible 20-minutes that undid a dream.
That's all it takes now, you know. One bad period.
You see, Team Canada waltzed through the round robin in Helsinki, too. Even got by the semifinal. And they were leading the final, 3-1, when Uncle Sam crashed the party.
"We have a lot more depth this year than last year," Dawes said. "And everyone's been playing really well. You can't ask for much more. On top of that, the experience factor from the guys who have played in this tournament before can go a long way."
Maybe that's why Dawes says he's looking forward to the sudden-death nature of the next two games.
"It's awesome. It's something you look forward to as a kid, those high-pressure games," he said. "We're going to go out and play our hearts out."
We don't doubt that.
With another flag-waving crowd of 8,000-plus yesterday, many from Winnipeg, the Canucks let it all hang out again. And it will only get more boisterous for the semifinal.
And the gold-medal game next Tuesday? They may have to barricade the extra Canadian fans outside.
Of course, if the U.S. doesn't get there, ticket availability shouldn't be a problem.
The defending champ is reeling, having lost to Belarus the other day.
"Anything can happen," Dawes said. "You saw with the U.S. ... there's absolutely anything can happen."
We didn't need anybody to remind us.
Last year -- heck, the last seven -- have taught us that.
So congratulations, Team Canada. You've been quite something.
Even if it means absolutely nothing.