Don't count 'em out
Feisty performance shows Canada is still a contenderPosted: Monday February 18, 2002 9:19 PM
Updated: Monday February 18, 2002 9:45 PM
Win and draw Russia in Wednesday’s quarterfinal game. Lose or tie and get Finland. With all due respect to Finland -- who played a spirited game in defeating Russia 3-1 earlier Monday -- this was the skewed scenario facing Team Canada.
Skewed because despite Finland’s win, the Canadians would rather face the Finns rather than the more prolific Russian attack. However, who are the Canadians to be thinking about future matchups? They had performed so unevenly over the first two contests that the only team they should have been worrying about was Canada.
Thankfully, for Canadians everywhere, that is exactly where Team Canada turned their attention. They came out and dominated the Czech Republic, finally scoring on the Dominator himself. Mario Lemieux turned the trick, netting his first ever Olympic goal after skipping Sunday's tilt. Nevertheless, Hasek held firm until his team could tie it on a nice play by Jaromir Jagr to Martin Havlat. Then in the second, Havlat scored again on a play originating with Jagr dancing past defenseman Eric Brewer, after which Canada’s coverage completely broke down.
Then something happened. The Canadians kept skating and attacking -- self-doubt wasn't evident as in the first two games. Their defense was swarming, while the forwards kept the pressure on Hasek. Again, it was Lemieux breaking through as time was expiring in the second period. Hasek made the save, but rolled backwards into the net, inadvertently carrying the puck across the goal line.
So, two great hockey nations headed to the third all tied, not tinged at all by the next round match-up ramifications. This game was intense in its own right.
The game also showed the importance of Lemieux to the Canadian attack. Everyone was well aware of Hasek’s importance to Czech success and it was center stage yet again. The two seem to relish their own one-on-one battle -- a personal challenge at the highest level -- within the game. But, there were many other competitors in their midst likewise performing at a high level. Martin Brodeur showed signs of giving Canada a needed dose of big save goaltending. Jiri Dopita put the Czech Republic on top, showing again why he has long been one of the best players in his native land. On his goal, he picked off an ill-advised cross-ice pass by Chris Pronger, who continued to struggle, making several rudimentary mistakes again throughout this contest. Dopita stayed with the play in the offensive zone, finally ripping the shot past Brodeur.
Again, Canada refused to back down. They forecheck was ferocious, as the forwards threw pucks from every angle towards Hasek. They tied the game on a feed from Theo Fleury to Joe Nieuwendyk. The teams battled back and forth right up until the final buzzer, ending with Roman Hamrlik drilling Fleury in the back for tangling with Hasek in the crease. Nothing passive about this tilt, a game in which Team Canada finally played an entire 60 minutes of hockey. They didn’t win, but they didn’t beat themselves, either. And that is all the Canadians were seeking to accomplish heading into Wednesday’s elimination game against Finland.
Goaltender: With Hasek, the Czech Republic is never out of contention -- for a game win, or an Olympic medal. He showed why again on Monday, with his usual assortment of acrobatic saves.
Defenseman: Pavel Kubina played a spirited game for the Czechs, playing physically as well as joining the attack. Kubina set up the Czech's go-ahead goal at the time with a nifty pass from behind Canada's net, and Kubina gave Nieuwendyk a late shot after the Canadian scored the tying goal.
Forward: Lemieux entered the lineup and suddenly the Canadian attack went from popgun to potent. Few players have the presence to transform a team from searching to certain. He did that today. Will his hip allow that to be the case the rest of the way? Team Canada is counting on it.
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.