Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Canada finds a second gear

It took a period of play and a shuffling of the lines, but Canada finally found some offence at the World Championships. Dany Heatley scored two goals on the way to a 3-1 victory over 9th ranked Switzerland. Brendan Morrison scooped up a loose puck and put it behind the Anaheim Duck's Martin Gerber for the second Canadian goal. Heatley was back in action again in the third period with the team's third and final goal. Canada out shot the Swiss 18-3 in the second frame, making up for a tentative first period which saw them out shot by the Swiss 12-6. Canada had 10 to Switzerland’s 7 shots in the third.

By the time Morrison put the puck in the net, it was clear that Canada was in control of the game and were starting to find their legs, much to the relief of the teams’ fans. The first three games of this tournament have been a rollercoaster for Team Canada, starting with the departure of head coach Joel Quenneville due to bad health. The Canadians managed to win their preliminary pool, despite some early problems on the ice. They barely came back to tie Austria and then had to hang on to defeat the French.

This final preliminary game will be seen as a major confidence boost for the Canadians, who began to come at the Swiss in waves as they got their game together in the third period. The Swiss had a short burst of energy with seven minutes to go, sneaking a goal behind Robert Luongo, but for the most part Canada controlled the play and weren’t really in any danger of losing this one.

The turning point came after the first period, when head coach Mike Babcock shuffled his lines, moving Heatley onto a line with Brenden Morrow and Daniel Briere; the combination clicked quickly getting Heatley his goal 44 seconds into the second. Brier and Heatley combined again for the final Canadian goal.

Canada now moves on to the Qualifying round with games against Germany, Latvia and the Czech Republic, the first game against Germany goes on Friday. They head into that round feeling better about their play, this third game a solid effort that got them back on track. The Swiss made up of European pros are considered one of the better teams so being able to control the play as much as they did should go a long way to heading into the next round in a positive frame of mind. They seem better able to adjust to the change of style and the slight differences of international play.

Canada is hoping to build on the momentum of the win and take the play to the Germans on Friday. Having had problems with Germany in the past, the Canadians won’t make the mistake of looking past the game at hand. With little room for error in these championships that old cliché, one game at a time, never had more resonance.

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