Czechs are Canada's first big test

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:42 PM ET

Canada, which has performed under a night-light for its first four games, goes under the spotlight today at the world junior hockey championship. Canada has drawn the Czech Republic in semifinal play, a replay of last year in Helsinki when Canada crushed the Czechs 7-1, outshooting them 34-16. But Canada wants to change the end result -- a 4-3 loss to the U.S. in the final. It's been so long since gold, those medals from 1997 have begun to tarnish.

Canada went 4-0 in the round-robin, outscoring the opposition 32-5.

"I would be good if they let us play both of our goalies," said Czech coach Alois Hadamczik.

But in the words of 17-year-old Canadian sensation Sidney Crosby of the Rimouski Oceanic, "What we've done is in the past.

"It's totally erased. It's crunch time, and like a Game 7 from here on in. We can't take anything for granted," said Crosby, who has six goals and one assist.

The Czechs, 3-1 in the round-robin, scored an impressive 3-1 win over the U.S. in their final game, then blanked Finland 3-0 yesterday in a quarter-final.

Canada assistant coach Jim Hulton expects a classic North American game today. A dozen of the Czechs play in the Canadian Hockey League, six in the OHL and three each in the WHL and QMJHL.

"I think there's a familiarity, so you are not going to catch them by surprise," said Hulton, coach of the Kingston Frontenacs. "I don't think there's an intimidation factor either. This is for keeps now."

Canadian defenceman Dion Phaneuf of the Red Deer Rebels -- and a first-round pick of the Calgary Flames -- knocked Czech forward Rostislav Olesz, a Florida Panthers first-rounder, out of last year's semifinal with a concussion. Olesz has scored six goals this tournament, including one yesterday.

"Canada is the favourite but if we play hard, we can beat them for sure," said Czech defenceman Michal Gulasi.

Czech goaltender Marek Schwarz is with the WHL's Vancouver Giants and is a St. Louis Blues first-rounder.

"It can be a hard game, but if I play good, we have a good chance against Canada," Schwarz said. "I'm ready.

"Our guys know these guys from the Canada team and if we can play the same style of hockey as Canada, we can beat them."

Zbynek Hrdel, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick, has spent the past two seasons in Rimouski with Crosby.

"It's great to play with him in Rimouski and off the ice he's my best friend," Hrdel said.

"I talked to him this morning a little bit and we were joking around about the game that maybe we will play against each other. But it's part of the game and it doesn't matter who you play against. You have to play 100 per cent.

"I'm playing in Canada, so I am going to be more excited for this game. We have to play simple, simple game, like we played tonight, but we have to play tough, too, because of the size of Team Canada."

Canada goalie Jeff Glass of the Kootenay Ice has seen only 60 shots in the three games he played in the round-robin. Hrdel said the Czechs are aware of that.

"I heard about their goalie. I don't know if he is good or not because I did not see him play a lot, so we have to shoot a lot and we'll see what happens.

"They are very, very good team. They didn't lose here and they have good defencemen, but you know -- the best team can lose, too. You never know."

Glass said the fact that the Czechs play a North American style presents Canada with its first real challenge.

"They're going to play our game and whoever wants it the most is going to get it. Now it's for real and this is as big as it gets, but that's perfect. That's the way I want it."

This is the first time since Trevor Kidd started for Canada in 1991 in Saskatoon that the No. 1 goalie has come from the WHL. It's also the first international experience for Glass.

"It's definitely tough, but that's the job," he said. "I haven't been called on a lot, but when I am, I have to come up big for our team.

"I can't worry about how many shots I get and when I get them; I'm just worried about the shots I do get."

There are things Glass does to pass the time in the crease, such as singing to himself and calling the play-by-play.

"When I start singing to myself, I know I've gone crazy, but you stay focused. You talk to the defence. You do play-by-play.

"I'm just a goalie. I do my own thing back there and whatever call I give, it's not a famous call. Not like Bob Cole (Hockey Night In Canada) or anything."

The spotlight awaits.

TODAY'S GAMES

- Canada vs. Czech Republic, 4:30 p.m. EST (TSN)

- Russia vs. winner of Sweden-U.S., 8:30 p.m. EST


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