Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nice jog; sprints ahead

Winning debut OK, but it gets tougher

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VANCOUVER -- Give your fingernails a rest, Canada. And hold off on slamming your fist down on the panic button.

At least, for now.

Our men's Olympic hockey team -- who are chasing the only gold medal that matters for many in the country -- made its Vancouver 2010 debut Tuesday night in a dominant 8-0 victory over lightweight Norway in front of a delighted capacity crowd of 16,652 at Canada Hockey Place.

And while the scoreline wasn't even remotely surprising given the opponent, it is significant especially when measured against the horrific seventh-place showing in Turin four years ago.

Remember, the star-studded crew this country sent to Italy in 2006 was expected to dominate, too, but managed only 15 goals in the entire tournament and was shut out in three of its last four games in one of the most shocking and embarrassing performances by a national team in this country's history.

So 8-0 over Norway with all of one practice together?

Yeah, they'll take it.

"It's good to get this under your belt. It's been a long time coming, a lot of talk," said veteran Team Canada defenceman Chris Pronger. "It's nice to get into a game and play for real.

"The mantra of the day was to just go out and have some fun. In years past everybody's so worried about winning and focused on winning, winning, winning you forget the fun element of the game."

Canada looked sluggish in the scoreless opening period as new line combinations and defence pairings worked to establish some sort of chemistry.

That prompted two wise-alec Russian journalists seated behind yours truly to crack 'No Canada, No' when the fans started the familiar 'Go Canada, Go!' chant.

But in the final 40 minutes, Canada stormed the Norwegian net and pumped home eight goals while Roberto Luongo kicked out all 15 shots for the shutout and the win.

"There was a lot of electricity in the air," said Luongo. "This is big for Canada and for Vancouver. You definitely felt the electricity, it kind of felt like a playoff game.

"That first period? That was our first period as a team so I'm not too worried about it. We felt it out and then in the second we took over the game and you saw what type of team we are."

Among the significant developments for Canada:

"ö The eight goals scored are the most for a Canadian men's Olympic team dating back to a 10-0 spanking of Norway in 1992 in Albertville.

"ö Two of Canada's big-time snipers -- Dany Heatley and Jarome Iginla -- both found the back of the net twice.

"ö Ryan Getzlaf, whose presence on the team was in doubt as recently as Monday, scored once and looked solid on a line with Anaheim teammate Corey Perry and Eric Staal.

"ö The mobile and physical defensive corps helped contribute offensively with five players -- Shea Weber, Scott Niedermayer, Pronger, Dan Boyle and Drew Doughty -- all picking up at least one point.

"ö Sidney Crosby, playing in his first-ever Olympic game, was dynamite in registering three assists.

"ö The special teams were solid, with the power play netting two goals and the penalty-killing unit keeping the Norwegians off the scoresheet.

Now, will Canada need to be better Thursday against the Swiss? No question. Ditto for their final round-robin matchup against the USA on Feb. 21 and into the medal round.

Their performance will need to be an upward-pointing arrow, not a series of dips and spikes in a short tournament like this.

But all of those who figured a game like Tuesday's opener would be the sporting equivalent of a baby-seal clubbing should remember that it took all Canada had to knock off Norway 2-1 at the 2008 World Championships.

And while Norway's one NHL player did not suit up -- Ole-Kristian Tollefsen of the Detroit Red Wings will be late arriving in Vancouver after an illness in his family -- 13 of their players are in the Swedish Elite League while their best forward, Patrick Thoreson, is in Russia's KHL.

In other words, there are no gimmee games in the Olympics anymore.

And so for Canada to do what they did Tuesday night in front of a rabid home crowd and an anxious nation helps build momentum and stop any second-guessing or criticism.

Again -- for now.

After all, it's hockey, it's Canada and this crew will be under the microscope from now until, they hope, the gold-medal game on February 28.

And when it's gold or bust, when it's do or die, there is no in between.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

 

Canada 8 Norway 0

First Period

No Scoring.

Penalties -- Weber Cda (high-sticking) 7:39, Jakobsen Nor (hooking) 13:03, Spets Nor (holding) 17:56.

Second Period

1. Canada, Iginla 1 (Crosby, Doughty) 2:30 (pp)

2. Canada, Heatley 1 (Pronger, Thornton) 4:27

3. Canada, Richards 1 (Bergeron, Weber) 11:06

Penalties -- Hansen Nor (holding) 0:43, Bergeron Cda (interference) 7:54, Staal Cda (tripping) 9:06, Bastiansen Nor (tripping) 14:37, Heatley Cda (slashing) 18:33.

Third Period

4. Canada, Getzlaf 1 (Niedermayer, Toews) 4:29

5. Canada, Heatley 2 (Marleau, Boyle) 6:43 (pp)

6. Canada, Iginla 2 (Nash, Crosby) 7:36

7. Canada, Perry 1 (Staal, Boyle) 11:03

8. Canada, Nash 1 (Crosby) 18:11

Penalties -- Crosby Cda (roughing) 1:23, Jakobsen Nor (hooking) 6:13, Bastiansen Nor (high-sticking) 18:57.

Shots on goal by

Canada 14 16 12 -- 42

Norway 4 6 5 -- 15

Goal -- Canada: Luongo (W,1-0-0); Norway: Grotnes (L,0-1-0), Lysenstoen (4:29 third).

Power plays (goals-chances) -- Canada: 2-6; Norway: 0-5.

Referee -- Jyri Ronn. Linesmen -- Christopher Rooney, Stefan Fonselius.

Attendance -- 16, 652

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 17, 2010 C3

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