Pedal to the medal

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

HALIFAX -- Almost half a game had been played and Canada wasn't winning.

A country which once pulled out of the world championships from 1970 to 1976 because we didn't like the idea of our amateurs playing against Eastern European pros, wasn't beating a bunch of amateurs, carpenters, electricians and such, from, ahem, Norway with our top young pros.

"When it was 2-2 in the middle of the second period I was wondering if the ferry parked outside had a direct route to Columbus," said Ken Hitchcock, the Blue Jackets coach of the vessel down the hill in the harbour.

'SWEATED ALL DAY'

"We sweated all day as coaches," said Hitchcock, even admitting he'd conjured up a vision of the kind of coverage you'd be reading across Canada today if this game worked out any other way.

"If we lose, it will be about us and me. It wasn't going to be pleasant," he said of what the scribes would be pounding up in the press box.

The coaches' knees were knocking because they knew that deep down Canada's NHL pros didn't believe, even after needing a goal from Rick Nash with less than four minutes to go to beat Norway 2-1 in preliminary play, there was any way they were going to lose a quarterfinal to a bunch of carpenters from Norway.

"The coaches were ready. But we knew the players weren't ready and it was a bit unnerving," said Hitchcock.

"But the players stuck with it. They knew they were going to win. The goal by Johnathan Toews to make it 3-2 was the one that just seemed to spark the team and everybody seemed to settle down after that," said Hitchcock of the game that turned into an 8-2 rout and sent Team Canada to Quebec to play Sweden in tomorrow's semifinal.

"That didn't feel like an 8-2 hockey game," he said.

It goes into the books that way. For the sixth straight year, Team Canada has made it to the medal round, this time in the first IIHF World Championship ever played in Canada and this time carrying a 16-game winning streak including last year's undefeated run to a gold medal. This is also a team headed to Quebec City with 43 goals for and only a dozen against from their stay in Halifax.

You'd say Canada is getting good at these go-on or go-home quarterfinal games.

That may mostly be because of taking better teams to the tournament recently and drawing lesser opponents for the quarterfinals as a result of finishing higher in the tournament standings.

It was a scary bit of business early for the Canadians.

Certainly nothing on the order of what happened four years ago in Prague after the Czechs had dominated the preliminary parts of the tournament very much like Canada had done this year only to run into spectacular goaltending in regulation, overtime and the shootout by then Edmonton Oiler goaltender Ty Conklin as the USA booted the Czechs out of their own tournament before the medal round.

The idea was to jump on Norway early and often so there would be no high-wire act like in the 2-1 game.

Early was no problem.

First shot. First shift.

Dany Heatley scored his 10th goal of the tournament at 0:37.

The often part took awhile.

With the same pair of Russian referees who botched the USA-Finland game, Canada had to defend a pair of 5-on-3s in the first period. Morten Ask scored on the first one to make it 1-1. A five-on three the other way restored Canada's one-goal lead when Ryan Getzlaf finally put one in the back of the net after Martin St. Louis and Mike Green had hit crossbars.

VIKING BLOOD

The Viking blood was pumping through the Norwegian veins when Olimb Mathis tied it 2-2 six minutes into the second period.

Toews and Derek Roy combined for three straight goals, Toews scoring the first and setting up the next two, to send Canada clear and away to medal round play. Nash scored his fourth and fifth goals of the tournament in the third and Roy completed his hat trick with the floodgates open in the third.

But for the longest time there it was no place for a nervous person and Cam Ward was becoming a very nervous person in the Canadian nets.

"Up until the middle of the second period, they were giving us a little scare," said Ward. "I was pretty relieved when we finally got a cushion."


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