And they're off ...

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

INNSBRUCK, Austria -- Until now, it's been a tour. Now it becomes a tournament. Let the 2005 IIHF World Hockey Championships begin!

"It's about time," says Martin Brodeur.

"Now it's going to feel more like the tournament is started. It's been so slow with the teams we have been playing. It's been dragging a little bit with the days. Now we're preparing for a big game and the big games are going to start coming one after the other."

Canada vs. the U.S. is different from the last time Brodeur played it in the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

When Brodeur looks up he won't be facing Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, Brett Hull, Chris Chelios, Bill Guerin, Brian Leetch, Tony Amonte or maybe even Mike Modano, who is listed as questionable. It's in with the new and out with the old for the U.S..

"It's definitely different," said Brodeur.

"They have young guys now. They're establishing things for the future. In some ways, that makes them more dangerous.

"It's still Canada vs. the U.S. There's a rivalry. These are guys we play seven-game series against in the Stanley Cup playoffs and we learn how to hate them. We also play seven- game series with some of them and learn how to love them and now we have to play against them. It's about bragging rights."

Coach Marc Habscheid says his team took the game against the Czechs in Prague on their tour to get to the tournament and played it like it was for real.

"That was a great game. But now we're into the tournament and now they are raising the stakes. Our guys like that. This winter, for most of them, they haven't had that. Our guys have been waiting for a game to meet a challenge."

For the Americans it's a different deal. In many ways the future of U.S. hockey begins here with this game.

"I like the way this team is set up for us," says G.M. Don Waddell. "I believe this team can compete and win.

NEW DIRECTION

"We don't have as many star players. After the World Cup of Hockey last year we decided to set a new direction. Since I've been around, we've been begging guys to come over. Instead of begging, we decided we wanted guys who wanted to be here."

It's the same approach Canada adopted after 62 players said no in 2002.

"This tournament has always meant more to the Europeans. In the last couple of years, it has come to mean more in Canada and they've taken it to the next level at this tournament. Now we're coming over here to compete for a medal, not just to try to get to the quarter-final," said Waddell.

"We've come here this year to change the culture. This time all I wanted to hear was yes or no. I didn't want to hear a reason. Just yes or no. We want guys who want to be here and be a part of it. A lot of the young guys we had here last year wanted to be here and had a success. It had been a long time between medals for the U.S. at the world championships," he said of winning a bronze medal, the first since a bronze in 1996 and the last medal before that, a bronze way back in 1962.

"Canada is always a big game for the U.S.A.," says Doug Weight. "Whether you play them in an exhibition game, outdoors, indoors, whatever ... everyone measures themselves against Canada. In the last five years Canada has been the team to beat at all levels. We're excited about this test."

Weight says he understands what the U.S. are doing, to follow Canada's lead and give players who want to be here a great experience so they'll want to come back.

At the same time, it's different. Canada has come to care more and more. Canadians, at least, know they've been here. In the U.S. this tournament doesn't exist.

AN HONOUR

"Even when we won the World Cup of Hockey in 1996, it was second and third sports page stuff," he said.

It's not about the U.S. It's about U.S. hockey.

"It's about what you have inside of you. To be here is an honour, now. We used to laugh at Canada in the '90s about how much they made of the World Junior. Now I'm looking for the results of the games at the World Junior. I'm phoning up for the scores. This team is here to win, not to travel."

End of the tour. Start of the tournament.


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