Team Canada routs Norway in Olympic opener
VANCOUVER - These early Olympic men’s hockey games have never been easy for Canada.
That’s why there was a collective sigh of relief for head coach Mike Babcock and his staff when, after a nervous and goal-less opening 20 minutes, Canada busted out for an 8-0 win against Norway in the Olympic tournament opener at Canada Hockey Place on Tuesday.
Jarome Iginla scored a hat trick, and Dany Heatley added a pair of goals to lead Canada offensively, while an underworked Roberto Luongo recorded the shutout as the Canadians outshot their underdog opponents 42-15.
The final goal, which came with less than two minutes to play, was originally credited to Nash, even though several fans tossed their caps on the ice in honour of Iginla. Replays confirmed the crowd's suspicion, and the International Ice Hockey Federation officially awarded Iginla the hat trick about four hours after the final horn.
This was the best start yet for Canada in the four Olympics since the NHL shut down its schedule to participate. Canada defeated Belarus 5-0 to open the Olympics in 1998, dropped a 5-2 decision to Sweden four years later and downed host Italy 7-2 to raise the curtain on the 2006 Winter Games.
"It’s the first one and we’ll get better," said Iginla, who now has eight goals in 13 Olympic games. "We were looking forward to this for a long time. To see all that red and white [in the near-capacity crowd of 16,652] was more than I imagined.
"It was a good game for our team to start the tournament that way. It’s great to get it going," the Calgary Flames captain said.
In the back of Babcock’s mind was the narrow 2-1 escape for Canada against Norway at the 2008 world championship, in which goalie Pal Grotnes made 50 saves. Grotnes was solid early in Tuesday’s game, but was yanked in the third period.
After a mistake-prone first period, in which the Canadians turned the puck over on too many occasions, Babcock altered his forward lines by promoting Iginla to a unit alongside Sidney Crosby and Rick Nash. Patrice Bergeron started the game with Nash and Crosby, but was dropped to an effective energy trio with Mike Richards and Jonathan Toews.
Iginla scored on the power play in the second period for Canada’s first goal, and finished off a nifty three-way passing play with Crosby and Nash for another marker in the third period.
"Part of playing for Team Canada, you’re excited whatever line combinations are, but also be ready for whatever role you’re asked," Iginla said. "Whether it’s part of an energy line or it’s PK, whether it’s playing the power play, it’s part of it. I imagine they’re probably going to change a lot throughout the tournament too.
"It’s pretty exciting to play with Sid. Every pass is in your wheelhouse, the saucers land, he’s, well obviously he’s a very dynamic player. He can shoot, he can do it all, he does it all."
Nash remarked that it was important to communicate plenty on the bench to expedite the chemistry experiment of the different combinations.
"We had four days [at the summer camp] in Calgary and that’s it," Nash said. "But I think we complement each other’s game. Hopefully we get better with each game.
"On the bench we talk, in-between periods is big, always trying to figure each other out and ask as many questions as possible."
'He's really dangerous'
Crosby registered three assists and enjoyed playing alongside Iginla in the final two periods.
"He finds those areas to get shots off and when he does, he’s really dangerous," Crosby said. "He goes to the net hard. You know what, I don’t think it really matters what the combinations are; when you’re out there, it’s a matter of creating things.
"Just playing together is the only way, and you have to make the most out of practice. I thought tonight as the game went on it got better. You try to play to their strengths."
The players were impressed with the atmosphere at the rink. The crowd’s energy was given a boost before the game when the scoreboard broadcasted a replay of the gold-medal snowboard cross run of North Vancouver’s Maelle Ricker and her trip to the top step of the podium.
Wayne Gretzky also was applauded when he was shown on the scoreboard in the first period.
Richards, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf scored the other Canadian goals.
Canada will meet Switzerland on Thursday in the second of three preliminary games. Veteran goalie Martin Brodeur will get the start.
One area Canada will work on in its next practice will be its defensive zone coverage because the Canadians spent plenty of time in Norway’s end in the opener.