Relaxed and ready

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

QUEBEC CITY -- You'd think a semi-final matchup would prove to be more pressure packed than a quarter-final one. But that's not the way it works at the world hockey championship.

The quarter-final is the noose-around-your-neck game. Getting past the go-on or go-home game to the medal round tends to loosen the noose, not tighten it.

You could see it at Team Canada's practice prior to playing Sweden today.

"I'm curious to see how we play," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We don't have anywhere near the same amount of stress.

"You could see the stress of the players (against Norway in the first half of the quarter-final). We spent an awful lot of time calming people down."

Hitchcock said players had family members waiting for them here, a plane waiting at the Halifax airport to bring them here (and the prospects of having to find hotel rooms again in Halifax if they'd lost.)

"It was stressful. But all that stress is gone. You saw it in practice today. We were a free and easy team."

Canada defeated Sweden 4-1 in the semi-final last year in Moscow and lost to them 5-4 in the same game the year before in Riga, Latvia. The Canadians beat the Swedes 5-3 in the gold medal game in Prague in 2004 and beat the Swedes 3-2 in overtime in the gold medal game the year before in Helsinki.

In 57 games at these championships, Canada is 28-24-5 against Sweden.

The Swedes are trying to convince themselves and the world that while Canada has the better players, they are the better team in this tournament. And even the Canadians are giving them that to some extent.

"The Swedes have the best team game of the four teams left," Hitchcock said.

Russia and Finland also remain. They, too, met in the semi-finals last year.

"I think Sweden has a little more continuity and chemistry," captain Shane Doan said.

"But we're pretty confident with our chemistry and the way it's gone. We've come quite a way since we left here after those two pre-tournament games."

Pascal Leclaire gets the nod in goal for the game, with Hitchcock saying the plan is to continue with the rotation, meaning Cam Ward would get the gold-medal or bronze-medal game to finish the tournament.

"Obviously, Sweden is one of the elite in hockey," Leclaire said. "Everytime Canada plays Sweden, it's a hard-fought battle. It should be really interesting. We're the team which is the host and we're a team that does have a lot of big names. But our best chance to win is to come up with a big effort.

"They have Henrik Lundqvist," he said of the New York Rangers netminder. "And they're all good hockey players."

Leclaire said he's not pouring over film and scouting reports of the Swedes from this side of the tournament,

"I'm not a big video guy. When I try to think too much I get in trouble. I just react."

Hitchcock, however, says they'll be giving the Canadian shooters a scouting report on Lundqvist.

"We've got our reports. We know exactly what he does and does well. We're going to spend time getting to understand his game and the best way to play against him and that includes breakaways and shootouts,"Hitchcock said.

"He's their most important player."

'WE CAN'T WAIT'

Dany Heatley, who already has 10 goals, said Team Canada found its game against the U.S. and Finland and that's what you'll see today.

"We can't stop playing the way we played."

"They're well coached, very structured and all-around a very good team," defenceman Ed Jovanovski said.

"This will be a game about will. It will be about passion and excitement.

"It feels like a long time since we were here for training camp and a couple of pre-tournament games. Our room is real excited. We can't wait to get to the game."


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