No reason to get excited ... yet

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VANCOUVER — Before it even began, the first real look at Team Canada that is, the crowd at GM Place stood and cheered wildly for the latest gold-medal winner, Maelle Ricker.

At least that was something worth getting excited about.

The rest: Time will tell.

Steve Yzerman’s Team Canada, coached by Mike Babcock, captained by Scott Niedermayer, led by Sidney Crosby, began the on-ice process of winning Olympic gold Tuesday night. And on opening night, in what was almost three games in one for Canada, there was a choppy begining, a decent middle, a nearly ludicrous ending, with Norway packing it in before the clock stopped ticking.

The final: An 8-0 blowout that was not unanticipated. The score means less than the result, other than it has some value in the standings later on. The score is what happens when the best of the NHL takes on a bunch of players that can’t qualify for the second division in Sweden. They also have the wrong Forsberg.

The score isn’t what Babcock cared about. He was looking for signs. He was looking for leadership. He was looking for players he can trust when it matters most.

In the end, he saw some good — and a little bad — and a whole lot more good. And he saw the game he figured he would before beginning the tournament.

“We were sluggish in the first period,” said Babcock. “We expected to be nervous early, and I think we turned too many pucks over in the first period.”

But Babcock was reasonably pleased with what he saw after that.

He liked Roberto Luongo in goal: “When you look at the scoreboard and see zero, I always like that.”

He thought Luongo was trying to make a statement.

Babcock liked the work of his fourth liners, all four of them, or five if you count the entire game. He was talking about Jonathan Toews, Mike Richards, Brenden Morrow, first Jarome Iginla (whom he elevated to the first line) and later Patrice Bergeron (who started on the first line and ended up on the fourth).

“I really liked our energy players,” said Babcock. “It’s really important for us to have a whole lot of hungry players here … I like determination and I like will.”

He wants a little more grit, shorter shifts, and a little more desperation. He wants his players fighting for ice time and if the competition is internal, much as it was Tuesday night, he would like to see it more fierce. He didn’t like some players taking longer shifts after sitting off a while — and that will be dealt with as the tournament continues on.

And he loves what Sidney Crosby brings, even if wasn’t instant offence and dominence against a team like Norway, where instant offence is possible. What Babcock likes best about Crosby isn’t his goal scoring (he didn’t score last night) or his flare (he had three assists but wasn’t all that noticeable at times) it is the part of the game you can’t quantify.

Babcock wants the entire Canadian roster to compete as hard as Crosby does, to care as much, to battle on every shift. Over and over, he brings up the term hunger. He wants it build in the right way. The concept may not matter in an eight-goal game against inferior opposition.

“But we want to set the tone,” said Crosby. “We have to start somewhere.”

Babcock’s vision is that Test 1, simple as it might have been, has succeeded.

“This is a beautiful city and we want to show it off to the world,” said Babcock. “But we also want to show how good we are. We are a work in the progress.”

As of now, an undefeated work in progress.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca


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