Smyth's seventh heaven

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

INNSBRUCK, Austria -- Say you're sorry. Or go for glory.

Lose and you go home embarrassed.

Win and you go to the medal round.

Nobody knows the dreaded crossover quarter-final elimination game at the IIHF World Hockey Championship better than Captain Canada.

Ryan Smyth has come to believe there are three things you can count on in life. Death. Taxes. And either overtime or a beat-the-buzzer ending in the crossover elimination game.

"It'll be my seventh. One year ago Dany Heatley scored in overtime. The year before Eric Brewer scored in overtime. The year before the Slovaks scored late to beat us 3-2. The year before that Darby Hendrickson scored for the U.S. to beat us in overtime. The year before we were down 3-2 to the Swiss with about eight minutes to go and won it 5-3 in the dying minutes.

"It's one game. You either get eliminated or you go on with a chance to win the gold."

Mike Babcock, who coached this team to the gold last year, says it's like the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"You know how many upsets there are in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But once you win a round ..."

Babcock called a time out with Canada down 2-0 to the Finns in this game last year.

"The thing about the game is you go home feeling like you embarrassed yourself.

"The big thing about Canada is our guys don't want to go home disappointed."

COULDN'T STAY AWAY

Babcock, who was in Vienna at a coaches symposium, couldn't stay away from practice here yesterday. He watched Slovakia play twice in Vienna and also caught one of their practices.

"They have no chance," he said. "They have no defence and no goaltending."

That said, he admits he thought the same thing in the semifinal against these guys last year. A highly controversial play behind the net in which Rob Niedermayer took out goaltender Jan Lasak resulted in Shawn Horcoff becoming the overtime hero for Canada. In there somewhere will be major motivation for the Slovaks.

Brendan Morrison says respect for the opponent is not going to be a problem.

"We know they're good. We have to play our 'A' game. We have to count on every player. I think our guys are ready for the challenge. Last year when we lost 6-2 to the Czechs going into this game ... we got it handed to us pretty good. It was an eye-opener. It brought out our best effort. It was a negative that took us to a positive."

DOESN'T MEAN A DAMN THING

He says the situation is the same going into this game.

While you spend two weeks positioning your team to play the game, history proves that it more often than not doesn't mean a damn thing when you get there.

Canadian coach Marc Habscheid says he believes his team will revert back to the storyline going in. It's a chance for Canada to three-peat and leave their shabby play in the qualifying games behind.

"I think we'll be ready to go for the history of Canadian hockey. We want to be part of that."

The fans back home had yet to get up for breakfast and read the negative reports from the Ukraine game the day before when Team Canada left the ice after practice here yesterday morning, all talking about being pumped to finally get to the big game.

"These are the games our players look forward to playing," said Habscheid. "The energy level is pretty good. Our guys are looking forward to playing at a high level, to stepping up and playing the kind of game we have to play."

Martin Brodeur says it's real simple.

"You can't lose it. It's the kind of game Canada thrives on. Everything is on the table from now on. It's three Game 7s in a row.

"This is the reason why I came. It's all about winning. Finally we are playing a game that really matters one way or the other."

But nobody knows this game - what it's like to lose it and what it's like to win it - better than Smyth.

"It's time. It's do or die. It's a thrill to play in a game like this. It's what guys play for. It's when you see the intensity and level of play from both teams, putting it all out there, letting everything out."

Go for the gusto. Or go home.


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