The fix is in for Canada

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

HALIFAX -- If it ain't broke, don't fix it. But what if half of it definitely ain't broke and the other half isn't that far from being a total train wreck?

What if one half is one helluva hockey team that you don't dare touch and the other half isn't that far from being a bust?

Delicate surgery is required.

The players aren't paid to be here. They are giving up a month to play for their country. Hockey Canada goes out of the way to make sure this is a highly enjoyable experience for everybody.

They want them back. Nobody gets yelled at or dressed down. With this team, you have to be real, real careful not to queer what's right by trying to fix what's wrong.

There was a lot right with Canada's 5-4 win over the USA in the first litmus test of the World Championship. And a lot wrong. There was plenty of character and emotion and that one big line which is absolutely dominating the tournament and won the game in the final seconds.

But when coach Ken Hitchcock and his Team Canada coaching staff left the Halifax Metro Centre after the game, they clearly came to the conclusion that the negatives revealed Canada isn't going to become the first host country to win the IIHF World Championships since the Soviet Union in 1986 without some surgery.

If this was a third of the way through the regular season in the NHL, the coach could blow a gasket, dress down players, ask the GM to make a trade and still have plenty of time before the playoffs. But this is a short tournament.

Which is where Hitchcock and coaching staff find themselves today as they begin play in Phase II of the tournament against teams from the other Halifax-based pool.

The night before, in the interview room, Hitchcock telegraphed that there was more than a little tinkering to be done after the revealing game against the Americans. He has a team with the most dominating line in the tournament in Dany Heatley, Ryan Getzlaf and Rick Nash. But the rest of the lines are a mess and a few of the defensive pairings went wonky as well.

"You start off this tournament asking players to play and sometimes begging players to play," said Hitchcock. "You get in a game like this, you're not asking, you're not begging, you're not demanding. You're back coaching.

"These are our players and we're going to coach them to another level. No matter what the guy's career was and no matter what the guy did during the season, what he is today is what you're coaching. That's the way you have to deal with it."

Somebody, overnight, talked Hitch down.

While action speaks louder than words and Jason Spezza's demotion to the fourth line after his ice time dropped to 9:50 in the U.S. game, there's every indication moves are being made to change the chemistry on lines and defensive pairs without messing up the rest of it. But Hitchcock's words had lost their edge overnight.

He said he's not trying to spank players.

"Nudge," he said. "This is different hockey here. It's a different game here. It's at a different pace. When the game gets intense some players revert back to what they know in the NHL. Certain guys play one way and certain guys play another way. Players want to slow it down when they can't slow it down. That game against the U.S. was a real eye-opener."

Hitchcock said this is about the coaches as much as the players. They have to coach them up.

"We found out we can't just do it on video. We spent all 50 minutes showing it to them on the ice at practice. We showed it on video. It didn't take. We had to practise it.

"We have great spirit. We have great character. We love it. But we have to play better. Games are coming where you have to rely on good play."

Assistant coach Pat Burns said Hitchcock is the perfect coach for the challenge ahead.

"We have to fix little things in little areas and still be positive about all the good points. How many goals have we scored in three games? Seventeen? We found what we wanted with the Getzlaf line right off the go. We have to fix the second, third and fourth lines. I don't think it's broken. But what we have to fix, we have to fix carefully. Hitch does a real good job at that."


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