Team Canada men slow out of the blocks
Canada’s Martin Brodeur flashes the leather during Canada’s 3-2 shootout win over Switzerland on Thursday.
Updated: February 19, 2010 8:01 AM
Canada 3 Switzerland 2 (SO)
VANCOUVER — Starting slowly at a major international hockey tournament is as Canadian as maple syrup.
The task facing Mike Babcock’s team at the Vancouver Games is to find a way to get into gear pronto, so Team Canada can evolve into a winner like the 2002 Olympic squad before it turns into the team that crashed and burned four years ago in Turin.
As hockey fans across the country breathed a sign of relief in the wake of Thursday’s 3-2 shootout victory over Switzerland, Babcock was hoping to use the white-knuckle ride as a building block.
“In every championship I’ve been involved with, your team has to go through adversity and that’s what we had here today,” said Babcock. “We were able to survive it.”
It’s still unclear what kind of team this is going to be.
The only forward unit that showed true promise against Switzerland was the San Jose Sharks’ trio of Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton and Babcock leaned on them heavily.
He’s still auditioning a spot on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Rick Nash — inserting Jarome Iginla, Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews at various points during the game.
“I didn’t think (Crosby and Nash) were good tonight so we were trying to get them going,” said Babcock. “It just wasn’t good. I thought our San Jose line was our best line tonight. I didn’t mind the Toews unit when (Mike) Richards was on it, they got physical. I thought (Ryan) Getzlaf was OK. As a group, if you go through our whole team and look at the high end of our game, as a group we weren’t as good as we were capable of being.”
Offensive chemistry was a major problem at the 2006 Games, when the team started slowly and never got on track while being shut out three times. However, Canada’s golden moment in Salt Lake City came after a 5-2 loss to Sweden, a narrow 3-2 win over Germany and a 3-3 tie with the Czechs early in the event.
This Canadian team now has 48 important hours to prepare for its final preliminary round game against the U.S. on Sunday. Babcock will use the time trying to find a way to create forward units that gel and get the power play unit going.
Canada was just 1-for-7 with the man advantage against Switzerland, failing to move the puck around or direct enough shots at goalie Jonas Hiller.
“We’ve got to execute way better than that,” said Babcock.
Time is of the essence because Canada will start facing must-win games after meeting the Americans.
Babcock will continue to go with Martin Brodeur in net even though Roberto Luongo registered a shutout in the opener against Norway. Brodeur could have stopped the wrist shot that beat him for Switzerland’s first goal, but looked solid in turning aside all four attempts in the shootout.
It was just the fourth shootout game in Olympic history and Canada has been involved in all of them — beating Germany in 1992, losing the gold-medal game to Sweden in 1994 and famously dropping a semifinal to Dominik Hasek and the Czechs in 1998.
One unfamiliar element this Canadian team is facing is the task of playing on home ice. Expectations are awfully high in a building where the majority of fans have been showing up in the country’s red-and-white jerseys and yelling until they are hoarse.
Babcock believes that was a factor in the game against Switzerland.
“Oh yeah, I think there’s no question,” he said. “Pressure if you don’t drink it up, if you don’t want it, if you don’t relish it — it’s a great equalizer.”
Canada only earned two points for winning in extra time and now sits one back of the U.S. in Pool A. However, the result won’t necessarily hurt them because a win on Sunday still moves them straight into the quarter-finals.
Like the coach, Crosby thinks the close call will help them as the tournament moves along.
“We wanted to finish 3-1 or 4-1 or whatever the case was, but this probably isn’t a bad thing for us to go through that desperation, tight hockey like that because it’s not going to get any easier as we move along here,” said Crosby.
Less than an hour after the final buzzer sounded, there was clearly a growing feeling among the other countries that Canada had shown itself to be vulnerable. A Russian reporter was even bold enough to point out to Crosby that the performance was not one that would capture a gold medal.
“Hopefully, we’re going to get better,” said Crosby. “I wouldn’t say (it was good enough), I think that’d be fair to say. The gold-medal game’s not tomorrow either, that’s the good news.
“We’ve got to look forward to the next one here and make sure we’re better.”
The clock is ticking.