The real tournament

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 6:24 PM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Now that we've got that out of the way, we can start the World Junior Hockey Championship. Let's face it, that thing called the preliminary round they've staged here over the last week or so was little more than an exhibition series. A chance for hockey wannabes like Germany and Switzerland to discover whose jock straps they can carry and whose they can't.

Oh sure, there was the odd eyebrow-raiser, like the Yanks having their bell rung by Belarus. But aside from that bit of fun, we just went through an exercise in predictability.

Did anybody honestly think the six teams in the medal round wouldn't be Canada, Russia, the Czechs, Sweden, Finland and the USA?

Now that we've whittled them down to four, we can get down to business.

In other words, find out who'll take on Canada in Tuesday's gold-medal final.

I know, the Canucks have to take care of today's semifinal against the Czech Republic, first. Like the preliminary round, though, that should also be a fait accompli.

Unless, of course, there's even one hoser in that dressing room who's thinking that way.

The way I see it, there are only two things that could bring down the tournament's top seed at The Ralph this afternoon.

One is if this team suddenly develops a collective case of amnesia and forgets everything head coach Brent Sutter has been preaching for the last few weeks.

Drop in on any of Sutter's media briefings and you'll inevitably hear him say something about taking one day at a time. The guy may as well have written the song.

"Today was the most important game," was usually Sutter's post-game line, followed quickly by, "like I told the kids, the most important game of their year is tomorrow."

Even after a practice, it was "today's over with," or, "short-term goals, so hopefully long-term goals will be there for you."

Preaching with the fervour of Billy Graham, Sutter has been drilling his message into those teenaged heads over and over. Anyone with teenagers probably knows why.

Looking ahead is, after all, human nature.

And how tempting it must have been to look past, say, weakling Germany in their third game. Or, with first place in the bag and the medal round on the horizon, Finland in their fourth.

The combined score in those two: 17-1.

The congregation was listening, apparently.

Today, that mantra becomes even more critical, because, as Sidney Crosby was saying the other day, "as you go on, the games get harder and harder."

There's a chance the Canucks might even get pushed today.

With what's on the line, you can be sure the guy lining up on the opposite side will come in with a hotter fire in his belly than was burning a few days ago. His stride will be a little stronger, his shot a little quicker and his elbows a little higher.

So if anybody has one eye on the Russians, or whomever, he'll find himself in trouble in a hurry.

"I don't think it's going to happen," defenceman Shawn Belle said after the round robin.

Belle doesn't even think the preacher-man needs to deliver another message.

"It's not going to be coach Sutter," he said. "Everybody knows what we've got to do. Our team is pretty focused on the goal we have right now ... whoever we play, it's to really dominate them and continue the success we've had."

No, I can't see anybody looking past today's game, either.

Which brings us to the one other thing that could derail this freight train: a hot goaltender.

Based on what we've seen so far, he'll have to be hotter than hell.

And no amount of preaching can save you from that.


Videos

Photos