SUN Hockey Pool

A pair of aces

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

Da, da Russia.

It'll take a while for Canada to get over losing to Russia and missing the medal round at the Olympic Winter Games. But you could make a case that it won a hockey game for a Canadian franchise yesterday.

Back early and rested to resume the season, one of the goats of Team Canada's devastating defeat was the hero for the Edmonton Oilers in overtime against the Nashville Predators.

Chris Pronger scored the winner with 43 seconds remaining in overtime. He also scored the game equalizing goal in the third period. And he pinged the post in the final minute of regulation.

Pronger has scored three goals in his three games back from Torino 2006 - to jump his season total from seven to 10.

"It's one of the reasons I came back early," said Pronger of flying out of Italy last Friday instead of drowning his sorrows with Wayne Gretzky and a significant number of the remainder of the team through the final day of the Olympics.

"Those four days really helped. I feel pretty good actually. I used that time to get acclimated back to the time zone and be ready for the 24 games left to play."

SIX-FOOT-SIX SUPERSTAR

It's not just physically, said the six-foot-six superstar who was less than super in his third Olympics. There's the mental healing, some of which will leave scars for a long time, to take care of as well.

"It was such a disappointing loss and there was so much mental anguish. I just needed to get back and let everything go, to clear my mind and focus forward instead of backward. It's going to sting and sting for a long time. All you can do is put your mind in the right place and get on with the now."

The way the goals are suddenly going in, he joked he's come back from Torino with "my sightlines adjusted."

Pronger, who logged 32:54 of ice time in this one (his season high is 33:06), is obviously, back to taking a full load as are the Oilers other Olympians Ryan Smyth (22:33) and Ales Hemsky (20:18).

Hemsky, who won bronze with the Czechs, scored the most gorgeous goal of the season with 67 seconds left Friday night for a win over San Jose.

THOUGHT OF THE UPSIDE

Craig MacTavish, an assistant coach with Team Canada at last year's World Hockey Championships in Austria, wasn't happy to see Canada lose, but admitted he thought of the upside in terms of his own hockey club, and particularly Pronger, within minutes of the defeat.

"He plays so many minutes, the extra rest can't help but improve his play," he said.

"If there's anybody who could come back without the rest and handle it, that would be Chris Pronger. But with games as intense as the games we're playing now, even he couldn't do it now if he hadn't had that extra four days of rest."

And Pronger came back to take the pairing with new defensive partner Jaroslav Spacek to what is starting to look like it could be a special level.

"You wonder how a guy like that can be available," said MacTavish of the way Spacek has played since the deal which brought him to Edmonton in a trade with Chicago for Tony Salmelainen.

"I had no idea that he's as good as he is. Part of it is playing with Pronger. He gets the puck right away when he's playing with Pronger."

Any member of Team Canada, as was the case coming home from Nagano '98, is going to feel like the village wart-carrier for a while. But if you come back and make them at least happy back in the village, it's a lot easier.

Because Pronger played for the St. Louis Blues when Canada came home without a medal from the first Olympics involving NHL players, you'd figure this one has to be more difficult to deal with now that he's playing for a Canadian franchise.

"I don't know," he said. "Having won gold in Salt Lake 2002 took the sting off this a little bit. If we'd gone three Olympics without winning a medal As is the case, with coming back to focus on the Oilers season, Pronger says he wants to go back and have one more shot at one more Olympic gold at Vancouver 2010.

"Who knows if after 2010 they'll do it again or not?" he said of the owners shutting down another NHL season for an Olympics which have so far proved to have done them very little good.

Pronger says he's been surprised with the way people haven't thrown Canada's loss in his face so far back home.

"Nobody has said a word to me," he said.

"Mind you, I haven't been out that much."


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