One more to go
Unrelenting work ethic leads Canada into gold medal gamePosted: Friday February 22, 2002 4:54 PM
Updated: Friday February 22, 2002 7:04 PM
From the outset, Canada did what was expected -- dominate territorially. Belarus netminder Andrei Mezin performed as required, allowing his team to stay within one goal after one period. Canada should have led 2-0, but Martin Brodeur looked shaky in bobbling Ruslan Salei’s knuckling one-timer, providing the Belarusians with the necessary dose of hope.
Unlike Sweden, whom Belarus unceremoniously upended in the quarterfinals, Canada’s game never took on an air of anxiety. Instead, it relied on an overwhelming work ethic to wear down the resolve of their opponent. Specifically, Canada continued to apply forechecking pressure, forcing Belarus to spend an inordinate amount of time in their defensive zone.
As they tired, they began to make errors, leading to chances on the rush for Canada. And the Canucks were quick to capitalize -- continuing to engage a defenseman on the attack -- with Scott Niedermayer finishing a nice feed from Mario Lemieux. Throughout the second, the Canadians remained relentless, finally chasing Mezin after Paul Kariya snapped home a beautiful cross-ice setup from Steve Yzerman.
Leaving nothing to imagination was the goal for Canada entering the game and that was exactly the situation after 40 minutes. With 20 minutes to play, Canada simply wanted to continue working with a purpose and avoid injury. Again, mission accomplished.
In the process, their goal scoring certainly got healthy as Simon Gagne, Eric Lindros and Jarome Iginla all scored their first goals of the Games. Late in the period, Lindros shrugged off a hard hit by Salei and the follow up by Vladimir Tsyplakov. But he couldn’t let it go. When the two emerged from the penalty box, Lindros tracked down Tsyplakov, engaging him in some less-than-playful jousting.
Other than that minor incident, Team Canada marched on to the gold medal game undaunted and undistracted.
Goaltender: Mezin only played half of the game, but he provided Belarus with quality goaltending -- good enough for another upset. Except, Canada did not back off. Eventually -- and wisely -- the Belarus coach replaced Mezin, shielding him from further bombardment and saving him instead for Saturday’s bronze medal game.
Defenseman: Eric Brewer played a solid, all-around game, scoring a goal and smartly stepping in between Lindros and Tsyplakov as the game was ending. Brewer played with maturity, especially considering his limited ice-time in Canada’s first four contests.
Forward: Yzerman led in his accustomed manner -- by example. His dogged determination was infectious and he, along with linemates Kariya and Lemieux, provided the offensive impetus that left no doubt that Belarus was not going to deny this team a shot at gold.
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.