Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Skill, yes; grit — we don't know

Finns should test Canadians; Austrians sure didn't

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SOCHI, Russia -- They haven't had a scare. They've barely had a scrum after a whistle. And while we know they're alive because they've got a pair of wins, there hasn't been much evidence of hot blood cooked up by the fire of emotion pumping through their hearts.

They've got the skill, this Team Canada does, but we've yet to see if they have the soul. We've seen how they handle a lesser opponent, but how will they fare in a dark alley against a menacing thug? Can they survive a punch in the nose and keep moving forward? Or will a stiff jab from a heavy hitter put out their lights?

The 6-0 score against Austria will help in the goals-for differential column if Canada needs an edge in a tiebreaker, but it did little to advance the cause of this team's search for greatness. They needed some push-back on this night to find out what they have inside, but Austria couldn't muster a soft breeze, let alone a bossy gust.

Take this Canadian win with a grain of sol, as the locals here call salt, and see it for it what it was: a big dog chasing around one of those yappy mutts the bored rich carry in their purses. Easy pickings.

This was as much about Austria being terrible as it was about Canada being great. No offence to the Mozarts, as some clever wags were calling the Austrians, but they were out of tune. Or maybe they just got tuned up by the Canadians. It was tough to distinguish which cliché was apt.

Canada was certainly crisper in their performance and improved from their output in the opener.

"I thought our team did a lot of good things. We had some better legs tonight, we skated a lot better, got pucks in deep and kind of worked in well," said Team Canada standout Jeff Carter, who led the scoring parade with a natural hat trick. "I think we kept it a little more simple. We got pucks to the net and were driving well. We got a couple of dirty ones. It was good."

Carter, however, wasn't fooled by the result and knows Sunday's game against Finland will be a more indicative measuring stick.

"They're a deeper team and they have a lot of guys that we play against every night in the NHL. They'll be more of a challenge. It will be interesting to see how we play and how we react," Carter said.

Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby has one assist in the two games and none of his linemates have scored as a result of the good work he's done to date. Carter scored on a Crosby setup, but it came after the Los Angeles Kings sniper popped out of the penalty box and joined a rush.

Head coach Mike Babcock wants to find chemistry, and having his best player producing would certainly be comforting, but he downplayed the lack of offence from his top line following Friday's win.

"I'm not worried about him too much, to tell you the truth. We've got to get the lines to go the best way they can. We have an off day (today), and that means coaches are not allowed to talk to players besides saying 'hi.' We'll recharge and get back at 'er here," Babcock said. "This tournament, in my opinion, is about getting better each and every game, and as long as we can do that, we'll have an opportunity. There's great teams here. It's a fine, fine line. I tell people this all the time, whether it's a Stanley Cup or a bantam triple-A championship or an Olympic gold medal: You've got to line up the moon and the stars going into it. It just doesn't happen."

Babcock, arguably the best hockey coach in the world today, knows of what he speaks. Canada's been OK, but they need to get to great, and he's going to have to pull some strings to make that happen.

Team Canada has proven it can handle the pushovers. Now let's see how they do against someone who actually pushes back.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2014 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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