Babcock: Swiss scare good for Canada

Team Canada hockey brass not sweating

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Team Canada's men's hockey coach Mike Babcock speaks to the team during practice at GM Place in Vancouver, B.C. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI Agency)

VANCOUVER — Mike Babcock isn’t worried. Same goes for Steve Yzerman.

They actually like what they’ve see from Team Canada. Honest. Babcock, in particular, likes the position Canada finds itself in heading into the third and final game of the round-robin portion of the Olympic hockey tournament.

“I think the whole experience, it couldn’t have gone any better for us,” said Babcock.

Well, yes, it could have gone better. But here is his premise:

“What do I mean by that? I mean, I’ve been worried for a long time about what would happen if we came here and breezed through the first two games,” said the Canadian coach. “If that happened, today we’d be sitting around like fat cats thinking everything is rosy, everything’s going to be easy. To be honest, I was scared to death we wouldn’t get any (adversity) early. I thought about that a lot and how I was going to handle it.

“Now we’ve faced adversity, we’ve had a scare. I was thrilled how our guys responded. This sets us up to get better. That’s what this is all about. As a coach, I thought it was fantastic.”

Yzerman wasn’t necessarily troubled by the 3-2 shootout win over Switzerland, but he wasn’t elated either. He tends to call a spade a spade. It was easy to say Team Canada would be a work in progress before the Olympics began, but it is more difficult to be that work in progress now.

“We can’t, as a team, panic and we can’t, as a nation, panic when it doesn’t go our way,” said Yzerman. “Having said that, we have to be better. Our D has to be better. Our puck movement has to be better. We have to protect the puck better.

“I keep hearing we’re supposed to win these games, but I don’t even know if you can assume anymore that you show up and beat anybody. Belarus beat Sweden in ‘02. Switzerland beat Canada in ‘06. Slovakia beat the Russians last night. Anybody here can win a game.”

The Olympics is new to Babcock as a coach, and the Olympics is new to Yzerman as a manager. But, enough research and background along the way has convinced both of them that Team Canada won’t be built in a day. Two games have been played: One seemed too easy, one seemed too difficult. More can be learned from the shootout win over Switzerland than the romp over Norway. Not all of it is encouraging.

“I really like our team,” said Babcock. “But can we get better? Absolutely. Can we be crisper on the powerplay? Absolutely. Can we move the puck better? Absolutely. Can we shoot more? Absolutely.

“I watched a tape of the game this morning. Do you know who our best line was? It was the San Jose line (Joe Thornton centring Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau). You know why? They play together. They know each other. Our players have to get to know each other better. To me, we’re trying to be too perfect, too cute. Just shoot the darn puck and play the game.”

Yzerman agrees and thinks that Sunday’s game against Team USA with bring with it a sense of urgency not yet seen in the first two Canadian games.

“Everything is still so new,” said Yzerman. “Our players are trying to get comfortable with each other. We’ve got new D partners, new linemates, new positions, new responsibilities. And that can change tomorow.”

Added Babcock: “I spent a ton of time on lines and pairs. That doesn’t mean I won’t change my mind today and then change it again tomorrow.”

This work in progress will be updated and monitored again Sunday.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

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