Listen to the funeral music
Players know this may be their last game for some time
By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
TORONTO -- There's circus music in the air as the best players in the world get down to the elimination games in the World Cup of Hockey.
But, between tunes, you can hear the funeral music in the background.
The deadline for a new collective bargaining agreement is one week from midnight tonight. There are expected to be talks again here Thursday but nothing is expected to come out of them. In the meantime, players suddenly face playing what many expect will be their last hockey game this season if they lose it.
Goaltender Martin Brodeur says it's a negative but he uses negatives for motivation.
"I always think of the worst-case scenario. I look at it as surviving something. It's worked for me in the playoffs. I don't want to quit playing hockey. That's the last date. I want to push it to the last date."
It's an interesting exercise to canvass the Team Canada dressing room as the players contemplate a lose-and-go-home quarter-final against Slovakia a week away from the end of the World Cup of Hockey and what almost everybody on the property believes could very well be the hockey season.
"You just try to put it out of your mind," says Ryan Smyth. "We talked about it when we first got together. We kind of decided not to make it part of our conversations until this is over."
Easier not said than done.
"I haven't thought about not playing because I am playing," said Eric Brewer.
"But now it has to be in your mind a little bit because we're in elimination play and your next game could be your last game and the date is looming large," he said of Sept. 15.
Some, such as Joe Sakic, said right from the beginning that there's nothing to think about. There's not going to be hockey when this tournament is over or for a long time after it's over, maybe a year or more.
"We're not thinking about it because we know what's going to happen. There's no use thinking about it."
That said, Kevin Lowe, the Edmonton Oilers' general manager and Wayne Gretzky's assistant director with Team Canada, says "even if you say that, you don't really believe that.
"I can only put myself in their position. I think you're thinking a lot less about it if you're here playing than if you weren't here playing."
Exactly, says Jarome Iginla.
"Personally, I just think it's about tomorrow. It's in the back of your mind, but mostly it's just about the next game."
Coach Pat Quinn says the focus of his team has been remarkable so far considering the circumstances.
"We have enough things to think about without thinking in terms of that," he said.
"We want to deal with the positive. We need to focus on what we need to do to advance.
"It is factual," he quickly added. "There could be no hockey going forward.
"We talked about this issue at the start of all this. I think athletes who learn how to win learn how to deal with these sort of things. It's easy to use the word focus, but that's what it is. You don't concentrate on the end result, you concentrate on the process. You can have all the talent in the world, but the mental side is way more important."
There's more involved here than Team Canada and the other six teams which remain in this tournament.
An interested observer in the background of what we're watching here, officially listed as a "guest coach" for Canada, is ex-Edmonton Oiler Marc Habscheid, the former Kelowna Rockets and Team Canada coach at the Halifax World Juniors.
If there is no deal by the time this tournament ends, Habscheid almost certainly will become Canada's head coach for the next Olympics. Which means NHL players won't be playing in Torino 2006.
If there's no season, it'll be awfully interesting what kind of team he may have to coach at next year's world championships in Vienna and Innsbruck, Austria.
Habscheid will coach Canada in tournaments in Europe such as the Spengler Cup, which normally feature Canadians playing pro in Europe. How many NHLers will want to play in those events to get some hockey in this season?
SAYING NO TO SMYTH?
Could you say no to a guy like Ryan Smyth who has answered Canada's call so often in the past? At the same time, those Canadians playing pro in Europe might be Canada's Olympic team in Torino.
"We're going into uncharted waters," said Habscheid. "Right now we're trying to plan for different types of situations. Hockey Canada and Bob Nicholson won't get in the middle of the collective bargaining agreement discussions. We're here strategizing different scenarios and trying to put a plan in place."
If there is no hockey this season, could not Habscheid have this team, or at least a large chunk of it, back together again for the world championships?
Hockey Canada couldn't afford the insurance for the high-priced help.
"It's a huge amount," says Lowe. "Almost all the profits in this tournament go to pay the insurance."
A lot to chew on. But it's Slovakia on the menu tomorrow night. The rest can wait.