Toews driving force for Canada

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — He has been a subtle force at both ends of the rink for Team Canada, perhaps their most consistent player in a Canadian Olympic tournament marked by inconsistency.

Winnipeg’s Jonathan Toews is tied for the Olympic scoring lead with seven points, but will likely be called upon to shut down one of the Slovaks’ great offensive lines in Friday’s semifinal.

The 21-year-old helped neautralize Russia’s Alexander Ovechkin and company in Canada’s dismantling of Russia Wednesday, and will probably have the likes of one of Slovakia’s Marians — Gaborik or Hossa — in his sights Friday.

That could well be a big key to victory and a ticket to Sunday’s gold-medal game. The USA and Finland play in the other semifinal Friday at 3 p.m. PST.

Suddenly, the finish line can been seen at the end of a road that appeared so difficult after a loss to the Americans Sunday.

Toews has been a big part of Canada getting here. He plays a game that is starting to have similarities to that of Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman, though Toews has embraced the defensive part of the game much earlier in his career than Yzerman did.

But it’s clear Yzerman’s influence is rubbing off on Toews.

“I talk to him every day. He’s a great leader on the ice and off,” said Toews, who played on a line with Rick Nash and Mike Richards Wednesday. “He has always had some great advice for us. He’s such a calm guy all the time, too. It kind of becomes contagious. He’s said to enjoy the moment and don’t worry about everything that’s being said. Just go out and play and that’s what we’ve done.

“You know that every word coming out of his mouth is so credible. He’s got so much experience, winning at every level. Everything he has to say, you listen. It sinks in pretty quick.”

Toews, despite his youth, has been quietly consistent while Team Canada searched to find its stride.

After losing to the USA Sunday, the country was shifting into panic mode. But wins over Germany and the pounding of Russia have Canadians thinking of a hockey double after the Canadian women won gold over the USA Thursday.

“We’ve done a lot of good things all tournament,” said Toews. “People like to talk. It seemed a lot of people were panicking after that game against the U.S. We’ve been confident ourselves all the way around, all along. We have some of the most talented players in the world on the front and the backend.”

“We put it all together (Wednesday), we played the right way and we got our breaks. This is about not taking any shortcuts and making sure we take the long route to make things happen.”

Now, it’s a game against the Slovaks, who pulled the upset over Sweden 4-3 Wednesday, playing a patient defensive game and waiting to strike off mistakes with the talent of Gaborik, Hossa and Pavol Demitra.

“I’m not surprised. Sweden’s got a good team, but Slovakia has got a lot of speed, great defence,” said Richards.

The Canadian players said they were quick to put the emotional victory over Russia behind them and won’t be caught taking the Slovaks lightly.

“You could feel the emotion in the building and how bad everybody wanted it, not only us, but the fans and everybody around Canada wanted to beat (the Russians),” said Richards. “It’s nice to get the win, but we’ve got to move on from that. Now it’s over and move on to Slovakia.”

“We all know what the prize is at the end of the line,” said goaltender Roberto Luongo, who will get his third-straight start in net. “(Wednesday) was nice, but it’s done and over with. (Friday) is a bigger game.”

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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