SUN Hockey Pool

'An empty feeling'

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:40 PM ET

Michael Peca could sympathize with Canada's Olympic men's hockey team.

The Edmonton Oilers forward was an Olympian four years ago when Canada claimed gold in Salt Lake City.

Yesterday, Peca, along with hockey fans throughout the country, watched as Canada was knocked out of the Olympic tournament in Turin, Italy, losing 2-0 to Russia in the quarter-final.

"It's certainly an empty feeling," said Peca. "There's a lot of planning, a lot of work that went into it for a lot of years. And to come up empty without a medal, it's disappointing."

Canadian hockey fans have four years to dissect the team's performance in Turin.

But as bad as fans feel about the team's disappointing finish, according to Peca, it's even worse in the Canadian locker-room.

"I think they feel they let the country down," said Peca. "I don't think it's as much they feel they let themselves and their teammates down - although I'm sure they'll say that - it's more of an empty feeling that they let the nation down, because they obviously recognize that this is a real big event for Canadians."

The Olympic hockey tournament is a big event for Russians as well.

And Edmonton's Russian defenceman Igor Ulanov was happy for his countrymen.

"It's definitely good that the Russians made the semifinals, They haven't made it that far in a long time," Ulanov said. "I think they deserved it the way they played. They were very physical - they play a North American style - and they also have a lot of skill. I think they deserved to go to the next round."

Today the Russians face Finland in the semifinals, while Sweden and the Czech Republic face each other in the other semi.

The Canadian players are expected to return home immediately. Chris Pronger and Ryan Smyth could be back practising with the Oilers early next week.

"It was unfortunate," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "It was going to be a tough road for Canada to begin with. They would have had to go through the Russians, the Finns and the Swedes or the Czechs in the final - that's tough.

"We've had a real, good, quality run, and it'll be disappointing for those players who put in so much time and energy over the short term that were there. It's too bad it ended the way it did, but they got beat by an exceptional hockey team."

Incidentally, the team Canada defeated to win gold four years ago - the U.S.A. - is also on its way home. Yesterday the U.S. lost 4-3 to Finland.

"I think the U.S.A. is kind of in a little middle-aged period here," said Oilers American-born goaltender Mike Morrison.

"They don't know where they're headed or how they are going to go about it from the goalie right on out.

"It's a merry-go-round and some nations in these international tournaments go through this. You just have to weather the storm and figure out which way you're going to go."


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