Drastic hockey changes needed

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VANCOUVER – There may be calls for a Wayne Gretzky-type speech to take the focus off the players if Canada plays poorly but gets past winless Germany Tuesday.

But there are still lots of good things that can come from that extra game against the Germans in the Olympic hockey tournament.

Team Canada still needs to find somebody to play with Sidney Crosby. The Canadians need the game to replace Martin Brodeur with Roberto Luongo officially as the national netminder. They need to implement a changing of the rear guard to the future from the past, with Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer having not yet checked into the Olympics and Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty deserving more ice time.

They need one more game to settle Dan Boyle down. And they need to find a large firecracker to put in Joe Thornton’s hockey pants.

And Canadians in general, including the ones wearing the skates, also need to get their heads wrapped around the idea that this is a tournament.

Despite the fact most Canadians have played in them as kids, coached in them as parents or watched them as fans, when it comes to the Olympics it seems like a difficult concept for the people and players of Canada to comprehend.

And when it comes to the format they’ve concocted for this one, that’s completely understandable.

A Canada-Russia gold-medal game could have been a perfect end in Vancouver. Now, assuming Canada doesn’t lose its sudden-death game against Germany Tuesday, it’s a Canada-Russia quarterfinal Wednesday night.

Even after the stunning 5-3 stumble against his Americans Sunday night, coach Ron Wilson said he believes the best two teams in the tournament are Canada and Russia.

And one of them will be out on Wednesday?

“What it does is make everybody realize how vulnerable you are in this tournament,” said Kevin Lowe, the only member of the Team Canada management team who was around for the

Salt Lake gold and Turin seventh-place debacle.

In Salt Lake, Gretzky held that famous press conference, during which he made pointed comments — “the whole world wants us to lose” — that took the focus off his players and allowed them to turn things around, ultimately winning Canada’s first Olympic hockey gold in 50 years.

“In Turin we lost to the Swiss and that forced us to play the Russians sooner than we wanted — the same situation we’re facing now,” Lowe said, adding his players, not just hockey fans, are struggling with the tournament concept.

“The players are in the same situation. They’ve got to wrap their heads around it. If it wasn’t a tournament, you’d say ‘Hey, we played well enough to win the hockey game against the Americans and there are very few things you’d want to change.’

“But it’s a tournament. You have to play flawless. The players now have to realize it’s going to take flawless.”

Ryan Miller stood on his head Sunday. Brodeur, his Canadian counterpart, fell on his face. The game — in which the Canadians outshot the U.S. 45-23 and had twice as many scoring chances — sent the host nation from gold-medal favourite to a risky bet just to make the medal round.

In some ways, that doesn’t seem fair. But this is a tournament. And one with a fractured format.

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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