April 19, 2019

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Opinion

Team Canada wins unlikely nail-biter against S. Korea

Matt Slocum / The Associated Press</p><p>Rob Klinkhammer (12), of Canada, checks Kim Won-jun (6), of South Korea, during the third period of the preliminary round of the men's hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.</p></p>

Matt Slocum / The Associated Press

Rob Klinkhammer (12), of Canada, checks Kim Won-jun (6), of South Korea, during the third period of the preliminary round of the men's hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/2/2018 (425 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GANGNEUNG — Team Canada head coach Willie Desjardins raised a few eyebrows here the other day when he said he was worried about playing against Korea.

That’s not something you’d hear from a Canadian hockey coach, and yet Desjardins had a dead-serious look in his eye when he told reporters, “Korea is going to be tough.”

Desjardins, as it turns out, has a future as a fortune teller.

Canada threw everything, including the kitchen sink and 49 shots, at Korea and their ex-patriate Canadian netminder Matt Dalton here Sunday night Korean time. And they needed every last bit of it to escape with a surprisingly hard-fought 4-0 victory.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/2/2018 (425 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GANGNEUNG — Team Canada head coach Willie Desjardins raised a few eyebrows here the other day when he said he was worried about playing against Korea.

That’s not something you’d hear from a Canadian hockey coach, and yet Desjardins had a dead-serious look in his eye when he told reporters, "Korea is going to be tough."

Desjardins, as it turns out, has a future as a fortune teller.

Canada threw everything, including the kitchen sink and 49 shots, at Korea and their ex-patriate Canadian netminder Matt Dalton here Sunday night Korean time. And they needed every last bit of it to escape with a surprisingly hard-fought 4-0 victory.

If that sounds like a comfortable margin of victory, well, you had to be here.

Matt Slocum / The Associated Press</p><p>Kevin Poulin (31), of Canada, greets Matt Dalton (1), of South Korea, after the preliminary round of the men's hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Canada won 4-0.</p></p>

Matt Slocum / The Associated Press

Kevin Poulin (31), of Canada, greets Matt Dalton (1), of South Korea, after the preliminary round of the men's hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Canada won 4-0.

After opening the scoring in the first period — Morden’s Chay Genoway set up Christian Thomas seven minutes into the game — this was the stuff of Canadian nightmares for the next period and a bit as the Koreans refused to go away.

With Canada clinging desperately to a 1-0 lead, Canadian netminder Kevin Poulin — Ben Scrivens, the starter for Canada’s first two games had a seat on the bench for this one — had to make a couple of spectacular second period saves to keep Canada ahead.

One shudders to think what would have happened if Korea had scored on a night the 12,000-seat Gangneung Hockey Centre was packed to the rafters with Korean fans who made up for an unfamiliarity with even the basics of hockey by just being really loud all the time.

The hero in this one will be a familiar name to Manitoba hockey fans: Eric O’Dell. The one-time Winnipeg Jet — he played 41 games for the Jets over two seasons from 2013 to 2015 — scored the goal Canada so desperately needed with just over five minutes remaining in the second period, tapping a loose puck in the Korean crease into a gaping net that had been left vacant by Dalton, who badly misplayed the situation in one his few miscues the entire night.

This was something less than ‘Henderson Scores for Canada!’ in both form and substance, but it had the desired result: with a two-goal cushion, Canada cruised the rest of the way and by night’s end had secured all that mattered on this night — a victory and a bye into the Olympic quarterfinals, which begin Wednesday.

O’Dell, who is Canada’s fourth-line centre here, was asked two questions of note after the game. I asked him if he’d ever scored a bigger goal (he was kind of vague, but it sounded like no) and someone else asked if he’d ever scored an easier goal.

Julio Cortez / The Associated Press</p><p>Goalie Matt Dalton (1), of South Korea, lays out to stop the puck during the third period of the preliminary round of the men's hockey game against Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. </p>

Julio Cortez / The Associated Press

Goalie Matt Dalton (1), of South Korea, lays out to stop the puck during the third period of the preliminary round of the men's hockey game against Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.

"Yeah, it was pretty easy," said O’Dell, "but I was still gripping the stick a little tight. You don’t want to miss that tap-in."

No, you certainly don’t. A loss to Korea, or even an overtime win by Canada, would have cost Canada a bye to the quarterfinals (Sweden, Czech Republic and Olympic Athletes from Russia got the other byes) and would have forced Canada to play in a qualification round on Tuesday, at which the other four quarter-finalists will be determined.

What it would have cost Canada’s psyche — both the team’s and the country’s — is incalculable.

It was already wounded even before they dropped the puck Sunday night. After an opening game 5-1 win over Switzerland, Canada lost 3-2 in a shootout to Czech Republic on Saturday in a game that saw them squander the lead twice and fail to show much in the way of offensive finish.

It was exactly the kind of game that you wished someone like Connor McDavid or Mark Scheifele had been on hand, but the NHL is sitting this one out and Canada is doing battle in these Games with the army they have, instead of the army they wished they had, to paraphrase former U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

And so instead of McDavid and Scheifele, you have O’Dell and Genoway and a lot of dumping and chasing and doing your best to cash in the opportunities your opponent gives you.

Matt Slocum / The Associated Press</p><p>Goalie Kevin Poulin (31), of Canada, grabs the puck during the third period of the preliminary round of the men's hockey game against South Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.</p></p>

Matt Slocum / The Associated Press

Goalie Kevin Poulin (31), of Canada, grabs the puck during the third period of the preliminary round of the men's hockey game against South Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.

The bottom line: Canada emerges from preliminary round play with two wins, a shootout loss and a bye to the quarterfinals, which is all you could ask from this Canada squad, or any other for that matter.

If there’s a worrying sign, it’s that Canada's best game probably came in the opener over Switzerland. If this tournament is all about slowly building and getting better with each game, there’s been scant evidence of it so far.

And it doesn’t sound like Desjardins, who lasted three years behind the Canucks bench before management put him out of his misery, is seeing much either.

Asked if his team is ready for the elimination round, Desjardins didn’t exactly offer a ringing endorsement.

"We have to be ready. We don’t have any choice," Desjardins replied.

That’s not exactly "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets…" but then Desjardins is not exactly Churchill.

Matt Slocum / The Associated Press</p><p>Gilbert Brule (7), of Canada, celebrates a goal with Maxim Noreau (56) during the third period of the preliminary round of the men's hockey game against South Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.</p></p>

Matt Slocum / The Associated Press

Gilbert Brule (7), of Canada, celebrates a goal with Maxim Noreau (56) during the third period of the preliminary round of the men's hockey game against South Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.

As inspirational leaders go, Desjardins and that goofy whiteboard he holds all game long strikes you as more Harold Macmillan than Churchill.

And yet, maybe that’s exactly what this blue-collar team of unremarkable men needs — a leader who to them must look like a mirror: another guy who blew his shot at the NHL and is looking here this week to prove something to everyone who passed him by but mostly, one suspects, to himself.

You can build something special on an identity like that, the idea that the only one who needs to believe in you is the guy sitting to your left and to your right.

"At the end of the day we’re Canadians and we’re the best at hockey. And so when we hit the ice, we’re expected to do well," O’Dell told me when I asked if this team has a chip on its shoulder.

"We believe in ourselves and I think that will take us far in this tournament."

It’s taken them this far.

No, it hasn’t been pretty. But then Canadian hockey, played the Canadian way, never is.

 

My mistake: Winnipeg speed skater Heather McLean wrapped up her 2018 Olympic Games Sunday night Korea time, finishing 14th in the women’s 500 metres in her final event of these Games. Incorrect information appeared in my column on Saturday.

email: paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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