What will Americans do?

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

INNSBRUCK -- Hockey's world championship often provides some surprising results. Not only are there upsets, games that are expected to be lopsided turn out to be nail-biters.

Part of the reason, Canadian goaltender Martin Brodeur says, is that in these situations, players depart from their tendencies, something that is a concern for Canada in today's game against the United States.

This is a young, spirited American team, and while that fact should give Canada an edge on the talent front, it also creates an aura of uncertainty.

Goalies in the National Hockey League create a playing profile for every player. They know the type of shot each opponent prefers and where he likes to take it from.

"But when you play on the bigger ice surface, everybody becomes a different player," Brodeur said yesterday.

"You have books on guys -- the way they like to shoot the puck from certain places -- but not for the bigger ice surfaces.

"You don't get the same chances here. You have more time with the puck, so now the guy can have more skill than you thought -- or less skill than you thought -- because he has got more time to make a pass or make a play."

Canadian coach Marc Habscheid put it another way.

"With the bigger ice, sometimes a player will go to where the open ice is," he said. "But if he's in the NHL, where there's less ice, he'll go to where the traffic is."

Brodeur will be in the net for today's game, a grudge match that always gets emotions running high on both sides.

The two teams split a pair of exhibition games in Canada, but Brodeur feels those results are now irrelevant.

"It's hard to really judge what will happen here because of the ice surface," he said. "I think it was lot easier to play them in Halifax and Quebec City than it will be here.

"Take a guy like Brian Gionta. In a smaller rink, he can't fly as much, but he's going to be skating like crazy here because he has the larger ice.

"Maybe some other guys are going to be doing the same thing."

Another factor that contributes to surprising results in games in Europe is the unfamiliarity of players with each other. That too may come into play today.

"A lot of guys on that team, because they're so young, I don't know them as much," Brodeur said. "A team like Nashville, I play them maybe once in two years sometimes. I don't know these guys. I've seen them on TV, but that doesn't matter. You learn to play against them when you face them on the ice."

UNCERTAINTY

Despite the uncertainty, Brodeur does not intend to make any adjustments to his style. "My game is my game," he said. "It's how I play, how I feel."

He is, however, a quick learner.

"I think once we get through the first period, I'll start seeing tendencies of certain guys. I'll know who flies the zone and who doesn't.

"We've played two Europeans teams. One, Latvia, was flying the zone all the time and our defencemen were always having to be backing up. The Slovenians weren't doing it.

"Two teams, both European, but they play a totally different style. So the Americans, what are they going to do? Are they going to send a guy always out so they can back us up or not?"

No one knows yet. Probably the Americans don't even know. They'll try a few different approaches and start to lean on the one that looks most promising. As a result, they'll have the advantage of surprise.

But the Canadians have a bigger advantage -- an unflappable, veteran goalie like Brodeur.


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