World Cup of Hockey
By AL STRACHAN, TORONTO SUN
Right from the beginning of the World Cup tournament, everyone knew that on any given night, the better team might not win the game. But most people expected that "better team" to be Canada.
Last night, however, the Czech Republic got the better of the play, yet ended up losing 4-3 to Team Canada in overtime.
"We were fortunate, let's say that, to survive," said Canadian coach Pat Quinn. "The Czechs outplayed us by a good margin.
"We sure didn't have the focus we need to have. We did not execute very well. We had what I would call not a very strong game.
"A lot of that, of course, was the good play of the Czechs. We escaped, I guess is the best way to put it."
"Without a doubt, we didn't play our best game," said Canadian forward Shane Doan, "and we didn't play as sharp as we have in the past.
"You've got to give them credit. They played a great game. They moved the puck well. We kind of got away from our forechecking game which has been our forte."
Doan's linemate, Kris Draper, agreed.
"In the third period, we were making some neutral-zone turnovers," he said, "and against a team like that, they're going to counter and create some opportunities and that's exactly what they were able to do. They were winning the battles for the puck."
It wasn't that the Canadians played a bad game. Far from it. Against most teams in the world, they would have had an easy time. But on this night, the Czechs played an inspired game and pushed the Canadians to the limit.
The Canadians' problems were more mental than physical -- the mark of a young team.
They were certainly a bit too tense at times, especially in the third period, and they twice let the Czechs get quick goals right after they themselves had scored.
Veteran teams are ready for the kind of counterpunch a good team will try to deliver and will make sure it doesn't happen.
But Peter Cajanek scored 42 seconds after Canada opened a 2-0 lead in the second period. Then in the third period, when Draper appeared to have scored the winner with 6:13 left in the game, the Canadians relaxed and only six seconds later Patrik Elias tied the game again.
But the Canadians did a lot of things well, especially on the all-important defensive front. All game long, they kept Jaromir Jagr under control by using the same forward line -- Doan, Draper and Joe Thornton.
"We learned at the morning skate that there might be a chance we'd be playing against that line," said Doan. "Throughout the tournament, we've had the opportunity to play against the other team's top offensive line. To have Joe leaning on (Jagr) all night, he's a big man and he does a great job for us.
"And Drapes can catch anybody from behind, but no one can catch him so it's a little unfair."
What Doan didn't add was that he, too, was especially effective, providing a solid physical game.
And Jagr, potentially the Czechs' most lethal player, didn't get a sniff.
"We knew we had to keep him to the outside as much as possible," said Doan, "and have that first forward coming back to track back and not give him a one-on-one with our D.
"That fourth and fifth guy would keep the puck from going through the middle, and we knew if we could do that we were going to have success.
"For the most part, we just tried to protect the house, as they say."
And protect the house they did.
Which was just as well for Team Canada. There was no further room for error.