Haunted by history

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

HALIFAX -- There's an elephant in their dressing room.

As Team Canada relocated here to their home for the next two weeks and their first seven games of the first IIHF World Hockey Championships ever held in Canada, the elephant took up residence, too.

With the entire team now together and preparing to open the tournament here Friday, Team Canada began to acknowledge the elephant while confronting the concept that the Halifax Metro Centre could become a haunted house.

Hosts don't win this event. Ever.

You have to go back to before the Berlin Wall came down, back to the old Soviet Union in Moscow in 1986 and Prague in Czechoslovakia in 1985 to find the last two hosts to hoist the championship trophy and win gold medals.

Some of the most remarkable crash-and-burn stories featuring stacked lineups of home teams have happened in this tournament over the years.

POWERHOUSE

Just last year, the Russians produced a powerhouse for the tournament held in Moscow. Their roster included the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovachkin and Ilya Kovalchuk and ended up seeing tears stream down the face of Jari Kurri when Finland scored an upset win in the semifinal.

But the ultimate face-plant by a host nation happened in St. Petersburgh,Russia, in 2000. The Russians really loaded up for that one. They had Pavel Bure, Valeri Kamenski, Oleg Petrov, Alexei Yashin, Victor Kozlov, Alexey Zhamnov, Alexei Zhitnik and 14 NHLers, double the total they'll have in this tournament.

That team didn't even get out of group play. The Russians lost 3-0 to the U.S., 3-2 to Sweden, 3-2 to Latvia, 1-0 to Belarus and 4-2 to Sweden.

The Russian Federation forced the entire team to sit at a dias to answer questions at a press conference the morning after they were eliminated.

There have been crash-and-burn stories every year the event has been held in a nation where the home side has had a hope.

In Sweden in 2002, Tommy Salo and his teammates were hoping to make amends in the Worlds after their disaster against Belarus at the Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games, but they soiled the sheets in the semifinal.

Two years later in Prague, the Czech Republic was rolling along, dominating the tournament, when they ran into Ty Conklin who stood on his head to beat them in a shootout in the quarter-final.

They didn't even make the medal round.

In 1997 in Helsinki, Finland missed the medals after two years earlier scoring an upset over host Sweden in the gold medal game in Stockholm.

There's a lot of horrid history here since the era when the only hosts expected to win were the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, who combined to win 22 straight world titles - 18 of them by the Soviets.

Ask Canadian captain Shane Doan about it and he has an explanation.

"We've never hosted it," he laughed.

But Doan quickly got serious about the subject, admitting that this Team Canada is stacked the same way a lot of other host countries were the years they crashed and burned.

"There is so much talent on this team, but playing for Canada is realizing that it's the little things Canadian hockey players take so much pride in. If we commit to those little things which have provided Canada with so much success in the past, maybe we can be the nation to do it and finally succeed at home."

Coach Ken Hitchcock recognized here yesterday that there is indeed an elephant in his dressing room. He said nobody on the team should be in denial about it.

"I don't see it as extra pressure. I think the thing you have to try to control to some degree are all the distractions tugging at the team. In Europe you're together with no distractions. You develop a bond.

HANGING AROUND

"At home, you have people hanging around our players. People are tugging at them already. They have a lot more friends around, a lot more media.

"In Europe, it's pretty much the players and that's it."

GM Steve Yzerman says there's a challenge involved.

"The roster has more high- profile guys than last year," he said.

"The challenge is going to be for this group to handle that. Guys aren't going to play as much as they are used to and maybe not play as big a role as they're used to playing. We still need them to be effective."

Hitchcock says home teams have lost a lot of these tournaments because they make the same mistake.

"We can't try to play with skill ahead of work. That's the red flag. We need quality over quantity.

"We're going to have to remind them of that every day."

Maybe they can write that on the hide of the elephant in their dressing room.


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