One game at a time

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Now comes the potentially hard part.

With a one-sided victory against Finland out of the way at the 2006 world junior, Canada will face a couple of easy marks in Switzerland (tonight) and Norway (tomorrow) as it marches toward a Group A showdown with the U.S. on New Year's Eve.

And though no one is expecting Canada to have any trouble with either the Swiss or the Norwegians, these are the kind of games in which bad habits can bubble to the surface if the Canadian players let them.

In coach Brent Sutter's mind, that won't happen.

"This could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing for a lot of these young men," Sutter said yesterday after practice at the Agrodome, an old-style arena on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds where scenes for the movies Miracle and Rocky IV were shot. "I want them to have fun, yet have responsibility and accountability to the front of that jersey. We have stay within our own identity.

"It doesn't matter the colour of jersey or country we are playing against. We have to play up to our standards."

Sutter stressed a pedal-to-the-metal approach last winter with the junior team that won gold in Grand Forks, N.D., and it worked well. But it is paramount with this group, simply because it does not have the talent of the team last year.

The players are buying in, and they claim they don't think about dancing through their opponents in the next two nights.

"We are not coming in saying we are going to walk all over them," forward David Bolland said. "We are going to come in confident that we are going to play our Canadian game. We love to hit, and if anybody gets in our face we are going to hit them."

The Finns were supposed to be a solid opponent for Canada, yet they were heading for the mountains before the midway point of the opener. It's hard to see how the Swiss will react to Canada's crunching manner any differently.

Captain Kyle Chipchura said he and his teammates "don't know what Switzerland is totally about," but that was his diplomatic side speaking.

Does it matter if Canada is true to itself?

"The key is playing our own game because, in the short-term, you don't want to take steps back," said Chipchura, who could have been reciting from Sutter's basic tenets of hockey handbook.

"We have to keep getting better each day."

If Canada wins tonight, it will be the eighth win in a row for Sutter, including six last year when Canada was perfect. No Canada coach has won more than seven consecutive games at the world junior, mostly because few have coached more than once.

"The only thing that matters is for us to win," Sutter said.

"This is about the players. All that matters is (tonight) is our biggest game of the tournament to date."


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