Smooth as Glass

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- As a nation prepares for the one hockey game that really matters this season, we ask the following question: Would you want to be Jeff Glass today? Think about it.

Give or take a heart specialist here, a brain surgeon there, there isn't a Canadian on the planet who'll have more pressure on him this evening than the Team Canada goaltender.

Certainly, nobody else will have some four million people watching their every move, as Glass will in the gold-medal final of the World Junior Hockey Championship.

It's been a long time since Canada last won this thing, and each time another year passes, the pressure is cranked up exponentially. Kind of like hockey's version of the Richter Scale.

We're at a seven, and counting -- an eternity by the standards set on our side of the 49th.

But if there was ever going to be a year to set the world right again, this was it.

Thanks to the NHL lockout, the field of 19-year-olds in this country was so deep, some say we could have entered two teams in the tournament, and both would be medal contenders.

The one we did enter has blasted through the event like a plow through a snowdrift, meeting only token resistance.

Tonight, it'll come face-to-face with that other winter power, Russia.

If anybody's going to test our Glass, it's the Russians.

And they've already taken a poke at it.

Star forward Alexander Ovechkin, saying what more than a few people are thinking, wondered aloud the other day how good Canada is between the pipes.

"They have good forwards, good defencemen -- but nobody knows how the goalie is," Ovechkin said.

Czech captain Petr Vrana went one step further, calling Glass the "weakest link" on Team Canada.

"I don't think their goalie is as good as a lot of goalies in this tournament," Vrana said.

And all because of the one flaw in Glass' game: through no fault of his own, he hasn't been tested.

The easy-going Calgary native, though, handles those shots like the rest he's faced here -- as if he saw them coming a mile away.

"I love how these other players love to talk -- it's fun to listen to," Glass said, cracking a sizable grin. "Am I going to get rattled about it? Come on. That's not going to rattle me. It fuels the fire."

The more you talk to Glass, the more you believe there's nothing to see through -- no false bravado, no defence mechanisms, just a happy, confident young adult who's having the time of his life.

It's almost as if he relishes the thought of someone saying he's half-empty, instead of half-full.

That's a valuable quality to have right about now.

You see, the pressure of the gold-medal game has chewed up and spat out more than one masked man over the years.

The tombstone marking Canada's failures at this event carries the names Maxime Ouellet (2000-'01), Pascal Leclaire ('02) and Marc-Andre Fleury ('03-'04), just to name a few.

Fleury, in particular, suffered a horrible fate, capping Canada's third-period collapse in Helsinki last year by banking the winning goal off his own player, into his own net.

"I felt terrible for Marc-Andre," Glass said. "It was just a bad break. It's funny how those things happen at the worst times."

Isn't it? A goalie can cruise through a tournament -- smooth as Glass, you might say -- only to see it shatter when it counts most.

But don't worry, it's only a nation's self respect on the line.

The world junior used to be ours, you know. Lately, though, this gold-medal game has become a national therapy session.

If Glass cracks tonight, safe to say we'll all be reaching for the bottle.

"It's just another game," the goalie insisted.

Of course it is.

We'll ask again: Would you want to be Jeff Glass today?


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