Hockey win good, not classic

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VANCOUVER — On a night when people paid more than $1,000 for scalped tickets, they got more than enough I-was-there value during the Canada-Russia men’s hockey game.

But it was about as far away from the 1972 classics, the famed New Year’s Eve Game or the ‘84 or ‘87 Canada Cup showdowns as you can imagine: What was supposed to have been a gold medal-calibre game turned into a go-home-in-shame game for Russia.

It had to happen to one of these two teams. One country’s players would be saying sorry to their fans Wednesday night, ousted before the medal round even starts.

Four years ago, Canada lost this game 2-0 to the Russians in Turin and finished seventh.

There are eight players on this Canadian team who know exactly what Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and friends are going through Thursday. And the Russians didn’t exactly go home to a parade four years ago, either.

After dispatching Canada to become the favourites for gold, they lost their next two games in the tournament and were shutout in both.

Fortunately for the mood and attitude of the remaining four days of Vancouver 2010, in which one medal means more to the host country than a host of others, it was Canada winning the first Olympic game against the Russians since 1960 in Squaw Valley.

On a surprising night— with a one-sided result next to nobody saw coming — a lot of things worked early as the Canadian crowd and the Canadian team came together in happy harmony.

It’s the game that makes our blood boil and the blood was boiling in every corner of the cauldron that was GM Place here Wednesday night.

And Boyle-ing over.

In the biggest games in Canadian hockey history there’s always been somebody who puts their name on the game. Wednesday night it was Dan Boyle.

A player who needed to settle down in the early going of the Olympic hockey tournament unsettled Russia early.

He was a lugging the puck down the boards before making a backhand pass to Ryan Getzlaf for a 1-0 lead at 2:21 that he turned into a 2-0 lead with a goal of his own goal and added another assist before the first period was over.

Canada’s only undrafted player, going against his own NHL goalie, Evgeni Nabokov, was both a set-up man and a shooter, helping Canada use the home crowd for all it was worth. And it was worth a lot.

But so was coaching. The plan to put big-time pressure on the Russians in their own end early allowed Canada to grab the game by the throat. Mike Babcock, Lindy Ruff, Jacques Lemaire and Ken Hitchcock clearly played as big a part in what happened here Wednesday night as any of the players.

But there was also the exact opposite of that on the Russian bench.

The Russians looked like a team that came to this game believing their talent ensure victory. It was like they had no respect for the Canadians. They were coached that way and came to play that way.

They’re going home.

And the home-country hockey team is still in the hunt as the Olympics move into the homestretch.

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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