Chasing the champs

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Over the next few weeks, as Canada tries to win its third consecutive world championship, coaches of opposing teams will try to develop an appropriate game plan.

It won't be easy.

In a situation like that a coach looks at the lineup he's going to face, spots a weakness, and tries to figure out a way to exploit it.

But where is the Canadian weakness?

At the moment, there's no full weakness, only partial ones.

One is that as a result of the owners' lockout in the National Hockey League, a lot of these guys fell out of game condition.

On the other hand, a lot of them played in Europe, so they're ready to go. Furthermore, the guys who weren't playing are professional hockey players and they never let themselves get too far out of shape. As the tournament progresses, so will they.

The other partial weakness is an unfamiliarity with the large ice surface.

While all the Canadians have played on it to some degree, they're more accustomed to the smaller North American surface. But again, as professionals, they adapt well.

Also, the days are long gone when Canadians couldn't skate as well as the Europeans.

OUTER REGIONS

So Team Canada won't have any trouble tracking down the Europeans on the outer regions of the ice, and in the inner region, they're at home.

"The big difference with the international ice is outside the dots," Canadian coach Marc Habscheid said. "Between the dots, the distance is the same, so your reference points are those dots."

As long as the Canadians remember to work well in the area within the dots, they won't get themselves into much trouble.

"European hockey likes to exploit the middle and we really want to be working from the inside out," Habscheid said. "We want to be aggressive on our forecheck but be responsible at the same time.

"If we're coming back, we want to make sure they have to play through us a lot, we want to fold back over the top so that it makes it more difficult for them to create offence."

That's a fancy way of saying that whenever a Canadian is in doubt, he should block up the middle.

"But with all that," Habscheid continued, "we sure want to keep our aggressive nature. That's our style. We want to pursue on the forecheck and get our second man arriving quickly."

It won't be as dynamic a forecheck as the one the Tampa Bay Lightning used in winning the Stanley Cup, but only because of the international rules.

Without the red line being a factor in off-side passes, you can't take the chance of a long pass trapping two forecheckers in deep.

But the Canadians won't be sitting back either. They'll try to play an intelligent game and if they think the gain is worth the risk, that second man will get heavily involved.

"It will be an aggressive forecheck," Habscheid said. "The first guy will be aggressive and the second guy will be aggressive. But if that second guy can't get there, then he has to keep his defensive posture.

"We want our second guy right there, being in the position that if there is any chance for possession he'll go after it."

When it comes to evaluating pure talent, Canada is the best team in the tournament.

But talent has to be utilized properly to be successful.

The Canadian goalies -- Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and Marty Turco -- know what they're doing.

As a group, the defencemen are the most capable in the tournament.

So if the forwards play an intelligent game and apply the pressure, Canada will justify its status as pre-tournament favourite.


Videos

Photos