January 3, 2005
Everyone's committedTeam defence has Canada on verge of championship
By PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- You want to know what's most impressive about this year's version of Team Canada? It's not the way the line of Patrice Bergeron, Corey Perry and Sidney Crosby sets up shop in the opponent's zone for an afternoon game of tic-tac-toe, although that is fun to watch.
It's not watching Ryan Getzlaf and Andrew Ladd stoke the runaway freight train that is Jeff Carter, whose sixth goal of the tournament put Canada on the rails to a 3-1 victory over the Czechs in yesterday's semifinal.
It's not the laughable depth up front, where a so-called fourth-liner like Clarke MacArthur can "chip in" with four goals, nor is it the enviable combination of size and mobility on defence.
No, what sets this team apart, and has to make it an overwhelming favourite to end this country's seven-year gold-medal drought tomorrow night, is a more subtle quality, one that was on display again yesterday.
In case you didn't notice, that was Crosby diving, face-first, to block a shot near his own blue line in the third period.
The same guy who, during the round robin, showed us a few new ways to score goals, doing everything but banking one off the scoreboard, past the organist and under the Zamboni on his way to six in the first three games.
"I didn't want the puck to go through," is how the 17-year-old phenom explained it. "You lay everything on the line. You don't want that puck to go in, so that's part of it -- sacrificing your body."
It's the same mentality that transforms Bergeron from magician to plumber in the space of seconds.
You may have seen the Quebec native cast his spell on Czech goalie Marek Schwarz in the second period, stickhandling with the patience of Job in front before giving Canada a 3-0 lead.
But did you notice Bergeron create another scoring chance in the third, then high-tail it all the way back behind his own net to help stymie a Czech rush when it was 3-1?
This is the leading scorer in the tournament, for Pete's sake. Shouldn't that kind of mundane work be left to the role players?
"It's part of being a hockey team," Crosby said. "The glory, and who scores the goals, that doesn't matter to the guys. It all comes down to winning hockey games. And guys want to do whatever it takes."
Which is why the Czech Republic, which was scoring about four goals a game going in, managed four shots on goal through the first two periods yesterday. That is not a misprint. They finished the game with 11.
Team Canada goalie Jeff Glass would have got more action at a nun's convention.
I'm guessing they had to administer smelling salts to the guy counting Czech scoring chances, just to keep him awake.
It's as if all these superstars from the Western and Ontario and Quebec Leagues take as much pride, maybe more, in preventing goals as they do in scoring them.
"Will to win," captain Michael Richards explained, echoing Kid Sid's mantra. "Everybody puts their body on the line for the team. And that's what we need to do in two days when we're going to go for gold."
Much has been made of Canada's record 32 goals for during the preliminary round, not so much about its five against.
Giving up three against the Slovaks in Game 1 obviously teed everybody off. They've given up three in the four games since.
Presiding over this defensively obsessive bunch is a guy who scored 363 goals in his NHL career.
"We've never talked about offence," head coach Brent Sutter said. "Everyone has to be committed defensively. You can't have guys who cheat. Everyone's bought into it."
And anyone watching it has got to be sold.