Hold that thought

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

INNSBRUCK, Austria -- In the heart of the Alps, Team Canada is about to take up skiing.

And clutching. And grabbing.

And a few sweater tugs.

And whatever other kind of interference they can get away with.

In Team Canada's recent meetings, the point has been made -- forcefully -- that to be successful in Europe, you have to do what Europeans do. Which is, interfere at a level far beyond what is allowed in the National Hockey League.

While interference certainly exists in the NHL, a series of crackdowns have reduced its incidence considerably.

In Europe, however, interference is a way of life, and the Canadian coaches are working hard at getting that message across to the troops.

"You reinforce it with video," said assistant coach Craig MacTavish after Team Canada's practice yesterday. "You show some of the liberties the other teams are taking in terms of the hooking, the latching on, the skiing behind, and you just keep continuing to go over and over it.

"It's a short period of time here, but you have to adjust quickly. It's a new game over here."

In some of the European leagues, the interference is even more pronounced than it is at the international level.

It's so bad in Finland, for instance, that Team Finland captain Olli Jokinen has said even if the NHL is still dark next season and he can't play for the Florida Panthers, he will not play in the Finnish League because interference is so prevalent.

Team Canada forward Brenden Morrow, who set up the tying goal on Sunday, agrees his team has to start conforming to the local style.

"I've played in this tournament about four times," he said. "It's always the same. We're not really used to it, but we need to realize we can do the same thing. We have a lot of big bodies and we can get in their way, too.

"We need to do it on cycles in the offensive zone to create more space for ourselves. As the tournament goes on, we usually catch on and start to use it to our benefit."

It's not just the forwards who get held up. The defencemen can be affected as well.

"In the last game," said Team Canada defenceman Ed Jovanovski, "I was coming out and playing the guy one-on-one in the corner. I cycled up top and came back into the scrum and faced three guys and just went nowhere. My guy just walked around.

"We have to believe it's going to help us win games, especially when the defence is going back and getting the puck. Partners shielding off for each other is going to give that guy an extra second."

Morrow shares that view.

"It's frustrating," he said.

"But every team does it. We need to do it too and stop putting our defencemen in that position. They have guys running at them. We need to get in their way and try and buy them some time."

In the NHL, these same guys are told again and again they have to limit their interference. And the league cracks down on it in order to improve offence.

But MacTavish, who is head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, takes a contrary view.

"I don't disagree with interference," he said.

"I don't disagree with it because in a way, I think it helps the offence. I know it makes a lot of people cringe when they hear that, but you can run a few pick plays on the cycles down low.

"You can run interference on the faceoffs. You can run interference so your defencemen can get back and move the puck out. It's not always the terrible thing that everybody thinks it is."

Whether it is or it isn't, it's an integral part of European hockey.

And to be successful, Team Canada is going to have to do it as effectively as everyone else.


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