|Finland's Saku Koivu gets a tap on the head from teammate Mikko Eloranta as they fool around during practice in Toronto Monday September 13, 2004. Canada faces Finland in the World Cup of Hockey final Tuesday Sept. 14th.(CP PHOTO/Ryan Remiorz)
All that's standing between Canada and a rare international hockey hat trick is 60 minutes and a band of feisty Finns. An undefeated Canadian team (5-0) aims to cap its 2002 Olympic gold medal and two world championships with a World Cup celebration tonight at the Air Canada, a feat accomplished only by the Soviet Red Machine from the 1981 Canada Cup through the 1984 Olympics.
After their final practice yesterday, the Canadian players passed under a dressing room banner that read "Carry On The Tradition."
"A lot of us have been in this situation before," centre Joe Sakic said. "It's a great opportunity. It's what you want to play for."
Down the hall, Finland conducted its last workout with a more businesslike attitude then Sunday's loose affair on the heels of upsetting the U.S. It's almost a given the Finns won't get off 40 shots at Canada as the more explosive Czechs did on Saturday, opting instead for the forechecking and stalling tactics that got them this far in the Cup.
Their country is also ready to rock in the event of victory, with newspapers giving doctors' advice for staying up to 4:30 a.m. for the conclusion.
"We need to take one more step," coach Raimo Summanen said of not being content to just reach the final.
Sakic says the Finns' impressive list of scalps -- Czechs, Swedes and Americans -- is reason enough for Team Canada to give no quarter this evening.
"Confidence is a great thing and (the Finns) think they can't be beaten," Sakic said.
Should Canada win, the triple title run would come five years after a hastily convened Open Ice summit on the game in the wake of the Nagano Olympics and a loss to the Americans in the 1996 World Cup.
"For anyone to knock our game in this country, even down to the grassroots level, (winning tonight) would be just another example that they are way off base," coach Pat Quinn said.
Bob Nicholson, president of Hockey Canada, is satisfied the program improved with policies that were mostly in place before Nagano caused a panic.
"We lost a game (to the Czechs) in a shootout," Nicholson said. "There was a silver lining. Looking at this team, which is our best, (many) came through the under-17 and under-18 programs. It shows those programs are working for us and when you can mix those guys with Mario Lemieux and Martin Brodeur, it's great."
This Team Canada has a younger look than the group Wayne Gretzky and friends assembled for the gold in Salt Lake, but it could be a better one.
"It's a real team, with young guys and veterans and depth at every position," Nicholson said.
"We have a lot of great players (out) because of injuries and yet we haven't really missed a beat here. That's a tribute to what is going on at all levels in our game."