Gut-Czech time for Canada

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:40 PM ET

A tongue-in-cheek proposal by Czech Republic coach Alois Hadamczik still might not be enough for his club to beat Team Canada today, even though one supposes it could help. "It would be good if they let us use both of our goalies," Hadamczik said after the Czech Republic blanked Finland 3-0 in quarter-final play at the world junior hockey championship here in Grand Forks, N.D., yesterday to advance to the semi-finals versus Canada today. "Canada is the favourite entering the game but it's what is at the end of the game that matters."

A year ago, Canada crushed the Czechs 7-1 in a semi-final matchup and later some of the Czech players acknowledged they were intimidated by the Canadians.

Defenceman Dion Phaneuf registered a thundering body check when he knocked Czech forward Rostislav Olesz out with a concussion. Both players are back this year.

Canada charged through the round-robin during the past week with four easy victories, with the carrot that dangles in front of them rather clear: Ending the gold-medal drought that began with an eighth-place finish in 1998.

No one so much as breathed on Canada -- which will get further inspiration with the arrival of Wayne Gretzky here -- since the tournament started and it will hit the ice today with a singular mindset.

"It's totally erased," forward Sidney Crosby said of Canada's early dominance. "What we've done is in the past. We know that if we go out there and play the game, we know we are putting ourselves in a good spot to win. It's Game 7 for us from here on in."

Canada will have defenceman Brent Seabrook, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury, back in the lineup. Goalie Jeff Glass will start and said the game "is as big as it gets, but that's perfect."

The Czechs were impressive in beating the Finns yesterday. One dimension other European countries don't have in their favour is the amount of Czech players who skate in the Canadian Hockey League. Of the Czechs' 22 players, 12 play in the CHL, a number at this tournament second only to Canada.

Canadian coach Brent Sutter commented on the Czechs' North American style of play, and assistant Jim Hulton acknowledged it could help their opponents today. Hulton dismissed the idea that the Czechs will run for cover.

FOR KEEPS

"I think there is a familiarity, so you are not going to catch them by surprise," Hulton said. "I don't think there is an intimidation factor. This is for keeps now. We don't have a psychological advantage that we might have had earlier."

Long gone are the days these players would have looked at each other in wonder. Czech forward Zbynek Hrdel, for example, has been a teammate of Crosby's for two seasons with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

"Off the ice he's my best friend," Hrdel said. "We have to play a simple, simple game, but we have to play tough, too, because of the size of Team Canada."

Well, at least the Czechs are talking tough.

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


Videos

Photos