Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Heed the advice of Monty Python, doleful hockey fans

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In our national period of mourning, since our loss to the Americans in hockey, I figure it is best to call upon the soothing teachings of Monty Python to direct our grief.

The first three lines of his song Always Look On the Bright Side of Life tells us that "Some things in life are bad," very much like losing to your southern neighbours who barely care enough about their hockey team to notice they defeated us.

"They can really make you mad," like how we outshot them more than twofold, 45-22, but could only manage to score three goals.

"Other things just make you swear and curse," like the text message I got from former Bombers teammate Dan Goodspeed at the end of the game suggesting that "maybe Team Canada should take a note from the CFL and have Americans play for them too." Ouch.

But alas, all is not lost folks. If we do indeed look on the bright side of life, we would see that not only are we still in the hunt for hockey gold, but we get to see the best collection of our nation's hockey talent play an extra game free of charge!

That's right ladies and gentlemen, not only is the loss to the Americans a mulligan that will give our prodigies the walk-up call of a lifetime as they enter the single elimination round, but since we finished second in Group A, we get to see our ice magicians play in the qualifying round against Germany later on tonight!

All the pundits and analysts will tell you that the teams that are primarily composed of NHL talent need a game off to rest and get their legs back from the grueling half season of NHL hockey they have already played. I disagree.

First of all, this is our home barn. When you play in front of close to 20,000 rabid Canadian spectators in a small venue and millions more via the televised broadcast, I feel fatigue is irrelevant. When you play in front of crowds that are this frenzied and supportive, conditioning becomes a non factor as the energy from your backers is contagious and infectious to the point that it inspires you and re-energizes your legs. It's the same in football.

Secondly, as in all professional sports, when you stick 23 players on a team that don't usually play together you need the time to learn each other's habits and to see who fits best where and with who, so this extra game in the qualifying round is an advantage for Canada.

While Russia sits there and waits for the impending quarter-final contest on our home ice, we get an extra tune-up game against Germany to make sure all of our pistons are firing at once.

Because make no bones about it people, this is still the best collection of Canadian talent available at these Olympic games.

Anytime you can get a coach to confess that, "Personally, I still think Canada is the best team," after they have just defeated you -- as U.S. head coach Ron Wilson told reporters in the post-game press conference on Sunday -- that is saying something.

Admit

In 13 years of professional sport I have never, ever, heard a head coach admit that a team he has just beaten is actually better than him. Quite the contrary in fact.

But those of us who watched the game already knew this, so what has to change going forward?

Namely the goaltender.

While I have no problem with the efforts put forth by most any of the players in the first three games -- our Canadian boys are some creative ice wizards out there -- I am puzzled by not only the play of the backstops but the delegation of them.

In the first game, Canada played Norway, scored eight goals and Roberto Luongo shut out the visitors.

How was he rewarded? He was benched.

While I understand that Martin Brodeur deserved a shot in Canada's second game against the Swiss, he did not play that well, save for the overtime shootout heroics.

So while Luongo clearly outperformed Brodeur in their three respective periods, Martin got the green light again to face the Americans. Why? I'm not sure. The only reasoning I can come up with is that maybe Babcock thought they would need his one-on-one skills in a game deciding shoot out, or he got caught up in Brodeur's impressive resume of past performances.

But there is no point dwelling on the past now.

Canada has earned the hard road to the gold and will now play Germany in the qualifying round to win the right to play Russia in the quarter-finals.

If we have Luongo between the pipes the rest of the way out, playing on his own ice with a chip on his shoulder, I like our chances.

In fact, you might want to quote Jon Hufnagel, head coach of the Calgary Stampeders, from his Grey Cup winning speech of 2008. In lieu of team Canada's recent loss and less than inspiring 1-1-1 round-robin record, "Gentlemen, we've got 'em right where we want 'em."

I still believe. Do you?

Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2010 C5

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