Team Canada storms into quarter-finals
The raucous mass that gathered at Canada Hockey Place to watch Canada maul Germany in men’s hockey began to chant "We want Russia, we want Russia," as the clock wound down Tuesday.
Of course, the hockey world has long expected to see that dream match-up at the Vancouver Olympics — ideally in the gold-medal final Sunday.
Instead, the two powerhouse national teams will clash four sleeps earlier in the quarter-finals on Wednesday after Canada thumped Germany 8-2 in the qualification round.
"It’s going to be intense," Canada’s top player Sidney Crosby said.
"It’s something that we thought sooner or later would happen. It’s not a huge surprise."
Canada-Russia is a highly anticipated game on so many levels.
It’s Crosby versus Alexander Ovechkin. It’s Russia’s firepower of Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk against Canada’s depth and determination.
It’s Crosby against his Pittsburgh Penguin teammates Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar. Canadian coach Mike Babcock faces his star player with the Detroit Red Wings, Pavel Datsyuk. Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks line on Canada will face their stingy teammate, goalie Evgeni Nabokov.
There also is the extraordinary history of Canada-Russia in Vancouver.
Esposito started rally
Remember Phil Esposito’s passionate plea after the Soviet Union dumped Canada 5-3 in Game 4 of the epic 1972 Summit Series that appeared to be a turning point for Canada?
There was that incredible 5-3 win for Canada over Sergei Fedorov and Russia to raise the curtain on the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.
A decade later, Malkin and Russia were embarrassed 5-0 by Canada in the 2006 world junior final.
Ovechkin would not stop to talk to reporters after practice on Tuesday. But did he have to?
Crosby and the Canadians know he is one indomitable hombre these days and he’ll be out to avenge Stanley Cup playoff disappointments when his Washington Capitals were eliminated by Crosby’s Penguins the past two springs.
"There will be no secrets," Babcock said. "I know he’ll be excited and I know Sid will be excited. It should be a lot of fun."
Canadian hockey players never require extra motivation when they clash with Russia. But they haven’t beat Russia or the Soviet Union in the Olympics since Butch Martin and the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen beat the Soviets 8-5 in Squaw Valley in 1960.
It also was Ovechkin and Russia that ended Canada’s Olympic experience in the quarter-finals four years ago in Turin.
Added to the fray are the eight Canadians who would like to avenge the stomach-churning losses to Russia in the 2008 and 2009 world championship finals.
Current Canadian Olympians Ryan Getzlaf, Dany Heatley, Duncan Keith, Rick Nash, Eric Staal and Jonathan Toews were on the losing side, when Canada blew a 3-1 lead after the first period to drop a 5-4 decision to Ovechkin and Russia in Quebec City two years ago.
Last spring, Heatley, Drew Doughty and Shea Weber played for Canada at the world championship. But an early 1-0 lead for the Canadians disappeared into a 2-1 defeat.
"For sure, that was a heartbreaking loss in the world championship last year," Doughty said. "Obviously, they have a lot of firepower right throughout their team. We need to play that Canadian way. I think we’re the better team."
Those were confident words from the standout 20-year-old defenceman. But the conviction was back in Canada’s game against Germany.
Sure, the win came against a minnow like Germany, which suffered four losses in four games in Vancouver and had only six NHLers in its lineup, including San Jose Sharks backup goalie Thomas Greiss.
But Canada’s offence was back on track after a difficult outing on Sunday, when Canada dominated the United States but left frustrated by the brilliant U.S. goalie Ryan Miller in a 5-3 loss.
Another matter was the Canadian goaltending.
Martin Brodeur faltered against the U.S. So he was replaced by Roberto Luongo, who was good enough to make 21 saves against Germany and will get the call against Russia despite his lack of big-game experience.
"I think his bank account shows he’s a pretty good goalie," Babcock said.
Luongo added, "I’ve played in a lot of big international games and hopefully it’s not the biggest one I play in this week."
Babcock and the Canadian players shrugged off the fact that they have to play such an important game after playing the previous night. But they didn’t have to travel and the outing against Germany wasn’t taxing.
Canadian associate coach Ken Hitchcock already had plenty of notes from his scouting assignments in Vancouver and his mega-hours viewing video. The Canadian players were to have a briefing from the coaching staff on Tuesday evening and a followup meeting with the power-play unit in the morning.
Babcock wouldn’t commit to who will receive the checking assignment on Ovechkin. But Toews is the likely candidate.
Canada outshot Germany 39-23.
The Canadians received scoring from each of the four lines and held leads of 1-0 after the first period and 4-1 following 40 minutes. Babcock’s new line of Crosby, Staal and Jarome Iginla paid immediate dividends with Staal setting up Iginla for two goals and Crosby for another. Crosby also was foiled on a penalty shot in the second period.
Thornton, Weber, Mike Richards, captain Scott Niedermayer, who scored a breakaway goal after emerging from the penalty box, and Nash also scored for Canada.
The party at Canada Hockey Place got off to a good start when, shortly before the game, a replay of the gold-medal effort of Canadian women’s skicross star Ashleigh McIvor was shown on the scoreboard to the throng of 17,723.