Cheers, Canada!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

HALIFAX -- The prima donna persona non-gratas were grata again.

Jeered all year, the over-priced players heard cheers here last night. They were cheered in warm-up. They were cheered at the start of the game. They were cheered almost every shift.

When Rick Nash scored Team Canada's first goal, fans sprang to their feet to give the all-of-a-sudden good guys wearing white a standing ovation, the first of more than a dozen on the night. It's been a long time since they felt the love.

"It was great," said Martin Brodeur who was brilliant out of the box keeping Team USA off the scoreboard for the first 30 minutes in a 3-1 Team Canada win to begin their run in an attempt at a third straight IIHF World Hockey Championship.

"I think the best part was when there were two minutes left and they asked the fans to send us off to the Worlds," he said of the loudest, longest standing ovation of them all.

Brodeur, who made three sensational saves and one simply stunning glove save on the last shot he faced before giving way to Marty Turco, skated off the ice to the biggest single standing ovation before the send-off at the end of the game.

"I thought it was for Marty coming in," he joked.

Ryan Smyth was too choked to joke.

Captain Canada is coming off an aborted charity tour where 800 people paid $25 a ticket to boo the NHLers, Mike Comrie in particular, in Red Deer.

"I'd like to thank Halifax for this," he said. "With all the stuff we went through this year, it made us feel good. I'd really like to thank Halifax for this."

CONSIDERED WONDERFUL

Ticket prices here were $65, $55 and $45 for the first pre-world championship game on Canadian ice since 1997.

To draw 8,471 in a 10,500 seat arena, right now, was considered wonderful. But Pat Connolly, who is in his 60th year here as a play-by-play hockey broadcaster turned Halifax sports columnist says, whoa.

"Any other year this would have been a complete sellout as soon as they put the tickets on sale. There's an attitude here, too. People here don't care if they ever come back. This was a Team Canada thing. If this was an NHL pre-season game, they wouldn't be here. But they put that aside because it's Canada."

Indeed. While there were a of couple thousand Team Canada jerseys spread around the rink, there weren't more than a couple dozen NHL team sweaters in evidence.

FELT GOOD

It felt good and tasted great but what they witnessed here might lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight.

Last night's love-in might be a one-off.

There's every indication it's not going to be the same sort of thing Friday night in Quebec City where Canada plays the USA again. As of yesterday only 4,200 seats had been sold in the 15,399-seat Le Colisee.

But whatever the scene in La Belle Province, the locked-out players had a warm, fuzzy feeling as they took to the ice together. "Tonight was really special," said Ed Jovanovski. "It showed that hockey will always be there in Canada."

Marc Habsheid was happy for the response to the players.

"It just proves that this was about cheering for Team Canada not anything else," said Habscheid.

"They showed they love the game, they love their country and they are proud of the players who play for their country. They just showed they really appreciate that."

At the end of the day, however, Habscheid cared more about what he saw on the ice than in the stands.

The Americans' 17 players who played in leagues in Europe this year compared to Canada's nine certainly didn't look to have any advantage in terms of rust.

"It was a real entertaining game," said the coach who watched Dan Boyle give Canada a 2-0 lead with a goal against Ty Conklin, and Scott Walker score into an empty net after Matt Cullen made it a game, beating Turco midway in the third period.

"For a lot of guys that was the first serious game they had in a while."

It came with some serious smiles.

"It just felt so great to be on the ice and feeling something like that again," said Brodeur.


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