Hockey knights for Canada

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

HALIFAX -- No Canada? Oh Canada!

Team Canada is now Canada's team.

The Canadiens are gone. Go Canadians!

You have to go back a bit to find the last time all the Canadian teams were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by May 3.

But having the Montreal Canadiens and everybody else eliminated so early this year has just juiced up the first IIHF World Championships ever held in Canada.

"I think that's huge," said Rick Nash. "Canada will now be watching us. A lot of people have been following us already, but now the full focus will be on us. That makes it a lot more exciting.

"It's been a while with the Flames, Oilers and Senators making it to the Stanley Cup finals in recent years. With the championships in Canada and now this happening, I think it's make it an even more special situation," said Nash.

You have to go back a way to find the last time the Canadian teams were out by this date on the calendar. In 1996 the Winnipeg Jets were the last Canadian team to go out on April 28. The closest date all the Canadian teams have been out this early was 2001, when the Toronto Maple Leafs were the last team to be ousted on May 9.

WAITING

Our nation has been waiting since 1993 for a Canadian team to win another Stanley Cup. But waiting one more year has greatly improved the odds of the first IIHF World Championships ever held in Canada becoming a hit.

"The light just got a little bit brighter," said Hitchcock of the tournament spotlight which doesn't usually get turned on until the medal round.

"We talked a lot about that at breakfast," said Hitchcock. "It's going to bring an even bigger focus on the tournament. The players understand that. I think it adds to their excitement. Players come to this tournament a little bit down when they've missed the playoffs or are eliminated in the first round. Now everybody is pretty jacked up. Players realize it and get after it."

And Hitchcock says this is going to be a fun tournament from what he's seen so far.

"I was watching the Russia-Czech game today and that was a track meet. You might as well get in it," he said of playing the go-go game.

If there was ever a good year for all Canadian teams to be eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the end of the day on May 3, this is it, not just for the players but for the tournament itself, especially when the last team alive was the Montreal Canadiens.

After three consecutive Stanley seasons when Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa made it to the final - the Flames and Oilers going to Game 7 - having no Canadian team remaining should add a heaping helping of focus and interest to the big international show, both nationally and regionally.

Having the Canadiens out of it makes a difference in Quebec, where half the tournament is being held, and here, where Maritimers are born Canadiens fans.

"We build the whole schedule expecting a Canadian team still to be playing in the playoffs during the time of the tournament," said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson.

"Having a Canadian team go deep in the playoffs is always good for the game in Canada, but maybe this year it's not a bad thing to have it work out this way.

FIRST TIME

"It's great for holding the event in Canada for the first time, great for our Canadian team and the players who are members of Team Canada."

While 1.8 million people tuned in to TSN to watch Canada win gold at the tournament in Moscow last year, despite the afternoon start times for Canadian games mandated by the NHL rights-holder deals, there's an excellent chance this event is now going to get the big TV numbers across Canada.

"It should be great for TV, too. The No. 1 event TSN has ever telecast for TV ratings was the World Juniors from right here in Halifax with 4.1 million viewers," said Nicholson.

"Last year's gold medal game from Moscow drew 1.8 million. Eight of TSN's top nine events have been ours. Now maybe we'll make it nine of 10."

Even with all the Canadian teams gone from the playoff picture now, there are still hockey nights in Canada.


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