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THE QUEST FOR GOLD

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Free Press Olympic writer Ed Tait breaks down the men's hockey semifinal featuring Canada and Slovakia:

When: 8:30 p.m. CT.

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Where: Canada Hockey Place, Vancouver

IIHF rankings: Canada -- 2nd; Slovakia -- 9th... Russia is No. 1

 

SCOUTING SLOVAKIA

How they got here: Finished third in Group B; defeated Norway 4-3 in qualification game; knocked off defending gold-medallists Sweden 4-3 in the quarter-final.

FYI: Slovakia is making its first-ever Olympic semifinal appearance. The Slovaks finished fifth in Turin.

 

KEY PLAYERS

33 Zdeno Chara, D: A 6-foot-9, 260-pound tower of power at the back end. Reigning Norris Trophy winner with the Bruins.

81 Marian Hossa, F: A sniper in the purest sense of the word; has had seven 30-plus-goal seasons in the NHL with Ottawa, Atlanta and Detroit.

38 Pavol Demitra, F: Vancouver Canuck winger was dynamite in the win over Sweden with a goal and two assists.

41 Jaroslav Halak, G: Montreal Canadiens' netminder has played in all five Slovak games and has posted a sparkling 1.97 GAA and 92.31 save percentage.

 

SCOUTING CANADA

How they got here: Finished second in Group A; defeated Germany 8-2 in qualification game; hammered Russia 7-3 in quarter-final.

 

KEY PLAYERS

16 Jonathan Toews, C: Nothing short of spectacular in both ends of the rink. Tied for Canadian scoring lead with seven assists and his plus-minus rating of plus-9 is, by far, the best of all players in the Olympic tournament.

1 Roberto Luongo, G: Has given Canada the steady goaltending it needed after an iffy outing by Martin Brodeur in a loss to the Americans. Is 3-0, has a 1.67 GAA and 92.42 save percentage.

87 Sidney Crosby, C: Incredibly, he was held off the scoresheet in the win over the Russians but is still generating chances. Expect him to crank it up against the Slovaks.

2 Duncan Keith, D: Leads all Canadians in ice time, has chipped in five assists, is a plus-5 and is playing error-free hockey.

 

3 KEYS TO A CANADIAN WIN:

1. BE RELENTLESS: This was a huge part of Canada's impressive win over Russia in the quarter-final as they got contributions from almost every player in the lineup. Canada's depth, and their ability to play the prototypical Canadian way -- be physical, cycle the puck -- will be critical.

2. THEY CALL IT HOME-ICE ADVANTAGE FOR A REASON: The crowds for all of Canada's games have been raucous, from the moment Luongo leads the troops out on to the ice to Rush's Spirit of Radio through the opening warm-up and right until the final buzzer. Shea Weber plastered Maxim Afinogenov in the opening minute against the Russians, further feeding the madness and putting the Russians on their heels.

3. GOALTENDING, GOALTENDING, GOALTENDING: The Slovaks are here, in good part, because of the work of Halak. Same could be said of the Finns and Miikka Kiprusoff and the Americans with Ryan Miller. Luongo may not be busy against the Slovaks -- they were outshot 29-14 in the win over Sweden -- but he'll still need to be steady. Sweden's Henrik Lundqvist wasn't against the Slovaks, and they made the 2006 Olympic champs pay for it.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 26, 2010 C4

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