O'Neill: Go easy on 'em

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:16 PM ET

Jeff O'Neill thinks those who have been maligning members of Canada's men's hockey team should take a deep breath.

"The media and everybody is so hard on these guys," the Maple Leafs forward said after practice yesterday at the Air Canada Centre. "They went over there and tried to do their best and win gold for themselves and the country. They couldn't get it done. That's a fact. The bottom line is there are a lot of good teams and they got shut down."

But a day after Canada lost 2-0 to Russia in a quarter-final at the Olympics in Turin, O'Neill was having a hard time wrapping his head around Canada's inability to put the puck in the net. Canada lost three of its last four by a 2-0 score.

"It was tough to see them go three games without a goal and I never would have predicted that," said O'Neill, who was one of 81 Canadian players on the list Hockey Canada submitted to the IIHF in October. "They just couldn't get it going."

Canada's quick exit was in the cards when it became clear during round-robin shutout losses to Switzerland and Finland that the players were not on the same page, but the sudden exit at the hands of Russia was a splash of cold water. But Tie Domi said he was not taken aback.

"I can't really say I am surprised," Domi said. "It's a one-game knockout and there is so much skill in that tournament, and it can go that way. Everybody is going to make all the excuses in the world, but nobody feels worse about not winning than the guys who were on the ice. We feel for the players."

What's left for the Leafs, when they're not worrying about how difficult it is going to be to secure a playoff spot in the next seven weeks, is to pull for some of their teammates at the Olympics. Still vying for medals are Mats Sundin and Mikael Tellqvist with Sweden, Tomas Kaberle with the Czech Republic and Aki Berg with Finland. It is expected Canada/Leafs coach Pat Quinn, defenceman Bryan McCabe and the rest of the club won't be in Canada until Sunday.

Domi refused to pick a winner. O'Neill said he had no idea who will win, but admitted Finland's success has surprised him. Rookie Alex Steen, who likely will play for Sweden in 2010, thinks his home country will take gold.

"Goalies are going to be key, and that is why I am pretty confident Sweden is going to do well," Steen said. "I feel Sweden(with Henrik Lundqvist and Tellqvist) still has the best goaltending in the tournament."

No matter what happens, Domi thinks the inclusion of NHL players in the Olympics has run its course.

"It is really not helping our game," Domi said. "I don't think Salt Lake (in 2002) helped our game. Vancouver is an NHL market, so I think that should be the last year."


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