No rest for Canucks

TURIN -- Losing the opener to Sweden in Salt Lake 2002 was a national crisis in Canada.

Right from the get-go the Canadian bacon was in the frying pan. There was panic in the streets from coast to coast. OK, maybe not the streets. But certainly in the papers.

For a minute there yesterday, as the 2006 Turin hockey tournament opened - for 25 minutes, 38 seconds to be exact -- you could contemplate how Canadian blood might be boiling if a jet-lagged Team Canada couldn't break out of a tied or one-goal game against a pack of pasta pucksters.

Didn't happen, of course. Move on, move on. Nothing to see here. Not this year.

But when it was over, when the Canadians finally found their legs and put away the host nation 7-2, coach Pat Quinn was left to contemplate starting an entirely different journey with this team than with the one which bounced back from the first game loss to Sweden to win Canada's first hockey gold in 50 years.

In Nagano 1998 and Salt Lake 2002 there were only six games involved if you made it to the medal round. This year they've bumped it to eight. In 12 days!

"You grow up playing five games in three days in tournaments. It's like going back to peewee hockey again," said Shane Doan.

NHLERS DRAGGING BUTTS

With the compact NHL schedule this year, it's been obvious to the naked eye how players have been dragging their butts to make it to the Olympic break.

So you have one practice in Canada, fly over here and have another one when you get off the plane. Then you play the next day and the day after that.

The question is, what would you rather have? Eight games with the degree of difficulty starting with Italy. Or six games with a team like Sweden right off the bat?

"I don't know yet," said Quinn.

"I really liked six games the way it finished the last time."

Quinn said it's exactly the same getting started with this squad as it was in Salt Lake - except with an Atlantic Ocean and six to nine time zones to deal with, depending on where you played your last game.

"We walked in the same sort of way as we did in Salt Lake. We have guys on this team who played four games in six days before heading over here."

Starting against Italy, Germany and Switzerland before hitting Finland and the Czech Republic, reminds Ryan Smyth more of all those World Hockey Championships than it does the last Olympics.

"You're not playing against Sweden. But you're playing teams waiting for you to get off the plane who see playing Team Canada as their gold-medal game."

Goaltender Martin Brodeur said it's not going to be easy for any team.

"It's tough going from six games to eight and doing it in 12 days. I think I've played 20 games in 40 days for New Jersey before coming here," said the national netminder who will have a day off today against the Germans as Roberto Luongo gets to start a game.

"Eight games is OK, but the NHL is going to have to do something. The Olympics are not going to change their schedule for us. But if it's going to be eight games, it has to be eight games in 14 days or eight games in 15 days," said Chris Pronger.

'QUICK TURNAROUND'

Jarome Iginla, who started off these Olympics like he finished off the last ones, scoring two goals to lead Canada to the win, said it was clear the last two weeks that players were dragging their butts around the league to get to the break.

"It's a pretty quick turnaround with a lot of tired players. But it's the Olympics. You just go on adrenalin."

He's right. It's the OIympics. But what happens when they all go back to the NHL?

There's a record 150 NHLers playing in this tournament and you have to believe the Olympics are going to have an effect on the rest of the regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Remember 1998 after the Nagano Olympics? The Colorado Avalanche had their coach and 10 players in the Olympics. The Avs met the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. Colorado led the series 3-1 and ended up gassing the last three games, losing 2-0 in Game 6 and 4-0 in Game 7 and simply looking like they'd run out of gas and didn't want to play any more hockey.

How will it affect the Avs this time as they go home with 10 Olympians to battle for their lives just to make the playoffs?

How about Detroit with nine? The Rangers with nine? Ottawa with eight?