The Last Word

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Can we still call Team Canada underdogs?

That wasn't a question which had been contemplated prior to Canada's 3-2 win over tournament favourite USA at the world junior championship until Brent Sutter's team gave us a New Year's Eve game to remember.

But today, as Canada waits to find out if it will play Sweden or Finland in tomorrow's semi-final, it's a fair question.

"I don't think we can be called underdogs now," said Luc Bourdon who, along with Dustin Boyd and Steve Downie, are Canada's top point producers, tied for 16th in tournament scoring with five points each.

"I think we just proved to everybody, and most importantly to ourselves, that we're going to do great things.''

Canada has won 10 games in a row at this tournament, including last year's gold-medal victory.

Jonathan Toews, the youngest member of Canada's team and the projected No. 2 pick in the 2006 NHL entry draft, says it doesn't matter much to the team if they're considered underdogs or not now.

"We proved we can go out and do what we have to do to win," he said. "We maybe don't have the scorers of some of the teams, but we proved if we go out and play a team game like we did against the U.S., we can win.

"We stepped it up and produced. We showed if we play an overall solid game for 60 minutes, we can succeed. We are where we are because we deserve to be where we are."

Not only is Sutter 10-0 coaching this team, but he also has won all four pre-tournament games against top teams these past two years. He says Team Canada plays 'em and the scribes can rate 'em.

"We've accomplished our goals to date," Sutter said. "We've climbed one mountain and we have two more to climb. We did what we needed to do and it's a credit to the kids. They've stayed with the program. They haven't veered. They've been a close-knit group. I believe in this team, in this young group of men.

"The most important thing to us is we have to play a certain way. Who scores the goals is irrelevant.''

Sutter said he wasn't the least bit surprised that his team played the game it had to play against the USA.

"I wasn't surprised at all," he said. "I knew this team was ready to play the way they played. The way I feel about this hockey team is the way I felt from Day 1.''

He said sometimes, when Canada plays down to the level of teams such as Switzerland and Norway, coaches have to remember when the skates were on their feet.

"I've been a player. I know what these young men are going through," he said. "The important thing is getting the wins.''

You could make a case that there no longer is a tournament favourite in that the Americans, after an opening 11-2 win over Norway, barely beat Finland 6-5, tied the Swiss and fell to Canada. While nobody is making much of it, Canada also did beat the just-off-the-plane Russians -- minus star Evgeni Malkin -- in a pre-tournament game.

The win over the Americans gave the Canadians three major advantages moving forward.

1) They don't have to play the 4-0 Russians in the dreaded crossover semi-final.

2) They not only have the bye, but the extra day of rest to take forward.

3) They proved that Canadian intensity and emotion and Sutter's total team concept can beat a top team in a big game.

Certainly, Team Canada, despite the unimpressive games against Switzerland and Norway, will be favoured against either Sweden or Finland in the semi-final. The Swedes finished second in its pool, but haven't won a medal in this tournament since 1996. Canada beat the Finns 5-1 in their opening game of the tournament0.

"We don't really have any stars on this team and we don't have anybody in the top of the scoring but the Canadian team game is the most important thing," forward andrew Cogliano, of Woodbridge, said. "We just keep jelling and becoming more and more of a team.

"We've come a long way. We've been together almost a month now and we are one win away from a chance to win the gold.''

Underdogs? Not so much any more.


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