Slovakia: Canada's Belarus?
By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
Russia's first goal gets past Slovakian netminder Jan Lasak on Saturday night.
(Greg Henkenhaf/Toronto Sun)
TORONTO -- It shouldn't be very scary. Slovakia hasn't beat anybody. Canada waxed 'em 5-1 the first time around. Russia beat 'em 5-2 here last night. Canada has only given up three goals in the tournament. Slovakia has given up 13. Martin Brodeur is hot. Jan Lasak and Rastislav Stana are not ... you could go on and on.
But it is very scary because the sudden-death quarter-final elimination game is always the singular scary game of any tournament. Making it worse is the fact Canada will have to wait forever to play it. With Russia-USA up first tomorrow in St. Paul, Minnesota, they have to wait until Wednesday.
It's not exactly "Remember The Alamo?" but it's what we're dealing with here. An uptight team going against a hot goalie, add in a fluky goal against, and you're out of the tournament a week before it's over.
You couldn't help but think of what would happen to the rest of this World Cup of Hockey if that happened against Slovakia.
Much was made of the lack of atmosphere here for the Canada-Russia game Saturday night, especially in comparison to the first game in Montreal. But for Russia-Slovakia last night, there was no atmosphere at all. Zero. Zip. Zilch. And empty seats galore.
Stuff happens in this game. It happened to the Swedes who knocked Canada off and went 3-0 in pool play at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games, when Tommy Salo let in the shot heard round the world.
The pressure on the Canadian team never goes away. But it'll be massive for the Canada-Slovakia quarter-final despite how well Brodeur is playing in goal and how confident Canada should be with the way this team played throughout pool play.
"Remember Belarus'' will definitely be the motivation for Slovakia.
"Absolutely,'' said Team Canada coach Pat Quinn.
"That's proof. Remember what Sweden looked like in their first three games at the Olympics? They were the team to beat. They played three awesome games. Nobody was even close to them in the way they were playing. And they disintegrated as the game went on. The pressure of the game suddenly escaping from them ...''
The fear factor kicks in for this one.
"No matter who you play, there is a fear involved in a knockout game. It's how you handle it that makes you successful.''
The waiting is part of the problem.
"We wait so long,'' said Quinn.
"I think the players would like it shorter. Four days is a lot of time between games.
"It's one of the cautions we should be aware of here. The fact we have spare time in there is a coach's fear. We can't lose our focus of what we come here for with all the days in between. We've seen it happen to some teams . Guys like to play every second every day.''
The fear with Slovakia is that for one game they'll turn back into the team which won a gold, a silver and a bronze at the IIHF World Championships from 2000 to 2003.
Slovakia jumped up and bit Canada 3-2 in this game at the Worlds in Sweden three years ago.
"The repercussions speak for themselves,'' said Quinn.
"If you don't win, you don't advance. It doesn't matter who you play. There are some awful good teams in this tournament.
"We know Slovakia has really prolific scoring available to them. The first three games in a lot of ways don't really matter. They're in position to win and advance. You can't take anybody for granted and can't look by them.''
In the Slovakia room last night, predictably there was nothing but "nothing to lose" talk when this one was over and the match was made with Canada.
"We didn't win a game yet. Once again we lost individual battles and 1-on-1 battles and gave up way too many 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 chances. Obviously we have nothing to lose,'' said Zdeno Chara after the game in which the Russians received goals from Pavel Datsyuk, Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Samsonov, Alexei Yashin and Alexander Ovechkin.
"If we lose, we're going home,'' said Marian Gaborik who scored for Slovakia along with Marian Hossa.
"We're going to have to play much more disciplined. We haven't played very disciplined at all.
"All the pressure is going to be on Canada, that's for sure. They have the best team in the tournament. We can't play like this and win that game. But we have a couple of days to think about it.''
Trouble is, Canada has that time to think about it, too.