Bound up by expectations
Canada still not transitioning to international stylePosted: Sunday February 17, 2002 11:47 PM
Updated: Monday February 18, 2002 12:29 AM
When the expectations exceed the performance, that is never a good thing. It is cataclysmic when you are talking Canadian hockey, especially as orchestrated by Wayne Gretzky.
But, after a resounding 5-2 loss to Sweden, all the signs were there insisting that instead of getting back on track against a much less talented team from Germany, Team Canadaís struggles in international hockey might be prolonged.
First, captain Mario Lemieuxís kept him out of the lineup. So, heading into the game, the story was who wasnít playing -- as it has been since goaltender Patrick Roy opted out of consideration back three months ago.
Second, the scoreless first period was marred with telltale signs of tension -- Eric Lindros taking a roughing penalty in the gameís first minute and a high-sticking infraction by Chris Pronger.
Finally, the pressure of not scoring a goal in four full periods was starting to wear on the Canadian forwards. Michael Peca muffed a shot on a shorthanded breakaway and moments later, Theo Fleury tripped, stumbled and fell -- all alone in the open ice -- as he was pulling away.
Making matters worse for the noticeably tight Canadians was the fine opening period put in by the Germans. Their 1-4 protective defensive posture at their blueline made it difficult for Canada to generate any chances on the rush. Add that all up and it equaled a scoreless first -- not quite the confidence boost the Canadians were seeking. Even goaltender Martin Brodeur looked a little jumpy in his first career Olympic game. He settled down by moving around and playing the puck, something he does better than any netminder anywhere.
In the second period, Team Canada collectively settled down after Joe Sakic made it 1-0 and then settled in on a five-minute power play opportunity for a hit on Ryan Smyth. Ultimately, this erroneous major penalty call against Germany would end up being the difference in the game. From there, they scored twice more before the second intermission, taking advantage of a fatigued German team, one with flagging confidence. Sakicís goal sparked the Canadians, as they finally played the game at a tempo beyond that which the Germans conservative strategy could contain. A power-play goal later and then a relief marker late in the second by Adam Foote finally gave the Canucks the ability to feel good about their game and something on which to build.
With the weight of the world seemingly off their shoulders -- at least until Mondayís game with the Czechs -- the Canadians exhibited some of the hallmark traits of their game, namely forechecking and physical play. They finally established the up-ice pressure by putting the puck past the 1-4 and getting into footraces with the turning defenders.
The weary Germans looked downtrodden defensively and for the first half of the third -- for the first time in the tournament -- Canada looked comfortable with its game on the big sheet. Still, those telltale signs that everything, if anything, the Canadians accomplish will be a struggle. Witness a German goal on the first shot allowed -- all because of an undisciplined decision by Rob Blake to deliver an open-ice hit inside his teamís blueline. Then an unnecessary penalty leads to a power-play goal -- freaky as it was, deflecting straight down off the knob of Brodeurís stick. From there, the Germans pressured to get the equalizer and the Canadians appeared to play not to lose.
And just when it looked like the Canadians were getting it together, they showed their fragility more than their fortitude.
Goaltender: Mark Seliger was the hero of the qualifying games for Germany was solid in goal again. He made a couple of necessary saves early in the third to keep Canada from waltzing, allowing his team to make a game of it down the stretch.
Defenseman: Adam Foote scored the game-winning goal, played a physical game and played confidently. He and partner Scott Niedermayer were by far the best pair of blueliners in this game.
Forward: Paul Kariya was a factor all night long. He scored once and had several other quality scoring chances. He used his speed out wide, something he should be doing every time. Honorable mention to Smyth for killing penalties effectively, playing with energy down low in the defensive zone and paying the price to establish body position in front of the net on offense.
Darren Eliot, a former NHL goaltender, is a hockey analyst for CNN/Sports Illustrated and will provide Olympic hockey commentary throughout the Games for CNNSI.com.