Canadians adjusting well

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

INNSBRUCK -- The larger ice surface, once a major adjustment for Canadians coming over to play in Europe, now ranks well down the list of concerns.

These days, Canadians skate every bit as well as Europeans and are every bit as well-conditioned. So the size of the ice doesn't really put Canadians at a disadvantage as it once did.

But there are still two areas requiring adjustment. The one that affects some players more than others is the International Ice Hockey Federation requirement that every player born after Dec. 31, 1974 must wear a visor.

The other adjustment -- and this one affects everybody -- is the officiating.

"It's different," conceded Team Canada head coach Marc Habscheid. "That's the way it is. It has been that way for many, many years. I guess our first exposure to it that most people saw was in '72 and from that point on, maybe it has changed a little bit, but we know that it's called differently over here."

It's a very difficult problem for a coach to solve. You can't just tell your players to go out and show more discipline because discipline isn't always the issue. You can't tell them to avoid bodily contact, because if they did, they would no longer be playing hockey as they know it and confusion would reign. Many of the penalties are the result of legal actions -- a hard check, a push, or even an act of self-defence.

"It's a very gray area," Habscheid said. "We watched the tape (of the tournament-opening win against Latvia) and the penalties involved. You can talk about discipline all you want, but at the same time, incidental contact isn't a matter of being more disciplined.

"The penalties that we can control, we want to control. But the ones that are tough are like Patty Marleau's hit. He was trying to get position and he nudged the guy and the guy went down and he got a penalty. Well that's a tough call.

"So you know what? No problem Patty. It wasn't your fault. It was just a tough call. I guess the place that we're in, that's a penalty, so we'll kill it for you."

Invariably, even though the Canadians of today play a clean game, they get the lion's share of the penalties. For one thing, they tend to stay upright. They're not only strong on their feet, they don't dive as much as the Europeans.

So there are those who suggest that you just shrug off the calls, rattle a few opponents here and there and count on the referee to try to keep the number of calls more or less even. Then put the potent power play to work.

That's not an approach that Habscheid likes.

"We know there are going to be penalties," he said, "whether there are good calls or not. We're not going to try and take them, that's for sure, because we know they're coming."

As for the IIHF visor rule, it's not a concern to players like Rick Nash and Chris Phillips who wear a visor when they play in the National Hockey League.

Or to players like Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby who are old enough to be excluded but wear visors, anyway. And to some others, it's becoming less of a concern.

"I had to wear one all year in Switzerland," Mike Fisher said," so I'm kind of used to it now. I don't find it too bad actually, but this one has been fogging up a bit more."

Even so, he won't wear one when he's playing for the Ottawa Senators.

"I've definitely thought about it," he said. "It's probably a smart thing to do. Even getting a lot of the scratches that I've got on it, you realize how much it does. Each scratch could have been a stick or a puck in the face."

Brenden Morrow of the Dallas Stars is another near-convert.

"I've played in this tournament three of the past four years," he said, "so I'm getting used to it. I think I can see better without it but I'd like to be able to get used to it.

"If I felt as comfortable with it as I do without it, I would rather play with it."

And then there's defenceman Sheldon Souray.

"I love it," he said with a voice dripping sarcasm, before quickly adding, "I can't wait to take it off."


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