Canada dictates pace in fun, fast-paced victory over FinlandPosted: Thursday February 21, 2002 1:46 AM
Updated: Thursday February 21, 2002 3:23 AM
According to Wayne Gretzky, the whole world hates Canada. Thankfully, that does not extend to self-loathing. In fact, the Canucks played a spirited team game from the outset, carrying the play against the Finns. Led by the Simon Gagne-Joe Sakic-Jarome Iginla trio, the Canadians dictated the style and pace of play. Sakic converted a Gagne feed for the 1-0 lead on a shot that Finland netminder Jani Hurme should have stopped.
After that goal though, Hurme was brilliant. Team Canada continued their offensive onslaught in the second. Repeated bids to get the all-important second goal fell flat. Hurme thwarted Brendan Shanahan, Sakic and Steve Yzerman -- all from close range. Finally, a neutral-ice turnover led to a nice turn-around by Chris Pronger and a nicer give-and-go by Yzerman to Mario Lemieux, whose return pass to Yzerman was pure brilliance, netting the Canucks the cushion they’d sought for most of the night.
But the frisky Finns answered within 20 seconds on a nifty Tomi Kallio helper from behind the net, finding Niklas Hagman in traffic. That immediate response kept everyone on edge and the outcome in doubt -- raising the question: is a 1-0 lead after 40 minutes the same as a 2-1 lead? Canada had carried the play, but Finland had turned the match into a 20-minute tilt. Plus, the late goal was a necessary shot of adrenaline for Finland.
Meanwhile, both benches continued to jockey for certain matchups -- Finland moving their main offensive threat, Teemu Selanne, onto no fewer than three lines. That was in an effort to keep him away from the checking of the Sakic line and the Rob Blake-Ed Jovanovski defensive tandem. Through two periods, Selanne managed just two shots on goal.
The third period would yield no more scoring, but the action was non-stop. Selanne seemingly stayed on the ice the entire 20 minutes. He fought Jovanovski for positioning in front of goaltender Martin Brodeur -- with the combatants exchanging stick whacks and later leaving his feet to pound Pronger’s face into the glass on a hit from behind that left Pronger bloodied and bleary. Maybe Selanne’s ill will was just the type of Canuck bashing Gretzky was ranting about earlier in the week. Maybe Wayne was right in speaking out -- possibly even serving as the rallying point for a gutsy effort by Team Canada.
More likely, though, this was exactly the type of game everyone expected -- close, hard-fought and in doubt until the end.
Goaltender: Hurme gave up a weak goal to start, but was brilliant the rest of the way. Without his effort, this game is a much easier affair for Team Canada. And it was almost good enough to prolong the evening, but not quite.
Defenseman: Defensively, Jovanovski was ruthless on Selanne. Offensively, he even manned the point on the power play. His play has improved with each outing, and coach Pat Quinn has called his number more often. He now skates alongside Blake to form the stopper-pair for Team Canada.
Forward: Yzerman was great. So was Sakic. But Gagne did a terrific job in the open ice when out against Selanne -- which was often -- while still being a threat offensively himself. In a tight game, his young legs gave Canada a necessary boost with his fine two-way effort.
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.