Humble hosts

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 4:02 PM ET

HALIFAX -- It was like Sesame Street.

Team Canada had a word of the day here yesterday.

"We have to be humble in our approach," said Rick Nash.

"We have to be so humble and not believe we'll have an easy game," said captain Shane Doan.

"We have to be humble and not expect success at home just because we're at home," said coach Ken Hitchcock.

The first IIHF World Hockey Championships ever held in Canada opens here this afternoon with Canada versus Slovenia and with Latvia up next Sunday, and, Lord, it's hard to be humble, when you have a team that looks to be perfect for this tournament in almost every way.

At the start of the event, the high profile hockey nations can get caught looking ahead to the bigger games the following week when they start playing each other rather than the ones against those teams which come here just hoping to avoid relegation so they might be able to return to the event the following year.

Slovenia has one NHL player. They lost 8-0 to Canada in 2005. How can this possibly be a hockey game?

But that's the trap of this tournament. Especially at home.

In 2000 in St. Petersburg, Russia lost to Latvia, Switzerland and Belarus.

You'd figure Canada could never lose to a country like Slovenia, a nation with seven rinks and only about 100 adult hockey players. Or Latvia, a country who has fans who are legendary but not so much hockey players who fit the same description.

But look at what's happened in this tournament over the years.

Canada lost 4-1 to France in 1995.

Canada once beat Denmark 47-0 (that was back in 1949) and ended up playing to a 2-2 in 2003 and escaping with a 5-3 win in 2006.

Just last year Canada escaped with a 3-2 win over Norway. Canada lost 4-3 to Norway in 2000.

In 2004 in Prague they tied 2-2 with Austria. In 1995 the nation that gave the world the game tied Italy 2-2. In 1997 the Latvians came out with a 3-3 result against the Canadians.

It can happen. It has happened.

"The humble approach means don't just expect that you're going to have success because you're sitting at home," said Hitchcock.

"Don't rely on the people in the stands to motivate you. We've got to do it ourselves.

"It's always been us against the world when we go to Europe.

"This is different. We have people pulling for us here.

"But we have to be careful. We don't expect them to do the playing. We have to do the heavy lifting.

"These teams play together a lot. They practice together in the summer.

"It's like Pat Burns says - they play the umbrella system. They suck you into an area and then expand on you."

Then they see the opportunity to manufacture a moment in history for their nation while the elite nations panic.

It doesn't help the day before the game when media men are asking every Canadian player if the know where Slovenia is located on a map.

Hitchcock believes the key to avoiding what would be a huge embarrassment, especially at home, is to go into these games thinking only about Canada, not the opposition.

"We have the kind of team that can really wear on the opponent. We have to go out and concentrate on playing that kind of game against our first opponents."\


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