SLAM!Sports
February 22, 2006
It's do or die
Your country needs YOU, Marty!
By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

TURIN -- It's a very scary game - more scary than it has ever been for Team Canada at the Olympics.

It's the go-on-or-go-home-in-shame game.

Certainly, in the three Olympics with NHL players and arguably in the entire history of Canadian teams playing in the five-ring tournament, what we're dealing with here is the most scary sudden-death quarter-final elimination game of them all.

It's Canada-Russia and the team that concerns Canada the most this time is unquestionably Canada. Our nation's first hockey gold-medal-winning team in 50 years has at no point looked like a repeat-the-feat team.

While they managed to defeat the Czech Republic 3-2 yesterday, Wayne Gretzky's gang is playing a better team than usual in the crossover game and this Team Canada isn't going into this game with any real security at any position other than goaltender.

Ready or not, here it comes. And there's no way you can say they're ready after getting a 3-0 lead on cheap first-period goals to chase Tomas Vokoun and then ending up being outshot 33-16.

'NOT NEARLY GOOD ENOUGH'

"We're still struggling to play as a group of five," coach Pat Quinn said. "It was okay but not nearly good enough. You don't feel a sense of comfort there now. We still have to get that trust for each other and that's not quite there yet.

"It's win-or-else now and emotional control is a bigger part of a game like this than actual skill. I'm not sure where we are as a group right now."

While they split up the coaching staff to go watch the late-night games that would determine their opponent, Quinn said the team they most have to look at is Canada.

"We're going to try to look at ourselves. This game is going to be more about our team than who we're playing."

Gretzky's move to take the focus off the players after the back-to-back 2-0 losses did result in a win over a tough team. But other than the fact it was a win and that the puck went in the net for only the second period in their past 11, there wasn't much to take forward from the round robin.

And there's no going back now.

There's no use being afraid of it, Brad Richards said.

"It feels like Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final," said the P.E.I. player who won one of those the last time there were Stanley Cup playoffs. "There's no better time in your life. There's no better feeling in your life. It's what the game is all about."

But it is very scary.

"It's do or die, win or go home," said Chris Pronger, who elevated his game to acceptable from awful. "We have to be prepared to work our boots off. Marty Brodeur played great but we don't want to give up that many scoring chances in the next one."

Pronger is one of five Canadians playing in their third Olympics - Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, Adam Foote and Brodeur being the others.

"Having Marty back there is a big help. Having him there behind us is going to mean a lot," Blake said.

"We don't want to rely on Marty too much," Sakic said.

BLAMED HIMSELF

Brodeur reinjured his right knee on a second-period scramble involving Petr Cajanek but played the rest of the way. He blamed himself on one goal and didn't have a chance on the other off a five-on-three. But that was yesterday and if there was ever a time Canada needed its national netminder, this is it.

"There's a lot of pressure," said the goaltender who will play the sudden-death game in front of his father, who was in goal for Canada for a bronze medal at the 1956 Olympics on the other side of the Italian Alps in Cortina-d'Ampezzo.

"If you lose you go home not even having a chance to win a medal. It's definitely a make-it-or-break-it game," added the goalie who made it gold four years ago in Salt Lake and gold again two years later at the World Cup. "If you move on, you can feed off the game. If you don't, it's a disappointing tournament for us."

Disappointing isn't the word most Canadians would use. Disastrous doesn't even do it.

Quinn said this is definitely a game where you're happy you have Brodeur back there.

"You don't think of goalies in terms of leadership but it's there with Marty. Here's a guy who is a capable leader without carrying a letter on his sweater. He not only plays his position so well, but he gives the team confidence in other ways. His body language says everything about him."

In this one it might be Brodeur or Bust.


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