Road hockey romp

TURIN, Italy -- Wayne Gretzky isn't here yet and Canada is already 1-0 in hockey competition.

In perhaps the first road hockey game ever played in Italy, Canada's minister of sport, a host of Canadian officials and a goal-sucking scribe from Calgary routed a mishmash of visitors 3-0 yesterday.

Staged in front of a log cabin built in a downtown piazza to promote the Vancouver 2010 Games, the game wasn't without incident.

In a pre-game faceoff ceremony between recently named federal sport minister Michael Chong and Olga Ilich, B.C.'s minister of tourism, sports and the arts, Chong was poised to slap at the tennis ball with a right-handed stick.

Problem is, Chong is a left-handed shot, opening the door for an embarrassing photo-op suggesting the man in charge of Canadian sport didn't know which way he shot or even how to hold a hockey stick.

An unimpressed teammate quickly noticed the awkward situation and handed Chong a left-handed Sher-Wood, which he promptly used to set up the first goal.

Quickly atoning for the oversight, Chong proved to be a stellar forechecker, setting up the opening goal past a Quebec native who asked: "Ever notice all the best goalies come from Quebec?"

Not on this day.

Canadian Olympic Committee president Michael Chambers took great pride in a bloodied finger courtesy of a blocked a shot.

"Similar to the Canadian Olympic team, we attacked to get the win," said Chambers, who delighted in yelling out 'car' as a force of habit from his younger years.

Warned by staffers to watch the stickwork and hitting-from-behind ("They're cracking down on everything," they said), the score got out of hand early, prompting one Team Canada member to say: "You guys must be Americans." (They were wearing blue).

Vancouver Organizing Committee CEO John Furlong also had a strong game, setting up the clincher.

"I grew up playing Irish hurling and I think the win had something to do with you parking yourself in front of the net and me parking myself behind you," said Furlong to the one-dimensional Calgary writer, humbled to have scored a hat-trick while fulfilling a lifelong dream of representing a Canadian hockey team at the Olympics.

Chong clearly saved his best stickwork for after the game when he did his best to avoid answering any questions regarding future sport funding for athletes or upcoming games.