Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Don’t Panic! It doesn’t count yet!

It’s bad enough that the Olympic medal count is rather low at the moment for Canada, but Monday for many will be a dark day for another reason. Team Canada dropped its first World Cup of Hockey exhibition game, against a strong American squad in Columbus, Ohio Monday night.

The USA took advantage of some defensive miscues and some mental errors in the net, to take the Canadians to school with a 3-1 victory in the first scrimmage between the two teams. A strong fore-check in the Canadian zone forced turnovers, as the relatively young defensive corps of Canada found itself under quite a bit of pressure through out the game.

With a number of injuries to past Olympic and World Cup participants for Canada it’s a younger make up on the blue line this time. And while Pat Quinn has quite a bit of faith in his rear guard, there were some uncharacteristic mistakes made in the Canadian end.

Bill Guerin, Brian Rolston and Jordan Leopold scored for the USA as they took the play to Canada out shooting the Canadians 34-20. Dany Heatley scored Canada’s only goal of the game, giving Canada the lead mid way through the first period. But in the second period it was all USA as they came at Canada in wave after wave, pinching low into the zone and keeping the Canadian defence trying to keep up. A more physical play by the Americans also contributed to their success, as they played the body quite well during the final 30 minutes adding an exclamation point to their performance.

Martin Brodeur started the game for Team Canada and stopped all 18 shots that he faced, though a couple of shots seemed hard to handle at times and almost ended up behind him. Roberto Luongo took over midway through the second and got off to a rather rough start, giving up the first goal for the USA seven seconds after arriving on the ice. The second American goal came late in the second on only the fourth shot faced by the Florida Panther goaltender, leaving him to shake his head in disbelief at the intermission.

Canada did not dress its big line of Mario Lemieux, Martin St. Louis and Brad Roberts who were given the night off. Causing conspiracy theories to fly around about health problems in the Canadian camp. Rumours that were dismissed by Team Canada officials as baseless. The decision to sit Lemieux et al, left Jerome Iginla, Simon Gagne and Joe Sakic to try and light a spark on the offensive front, but their line had a rough night with few chances and misguided passes the order of the night.

The two teams return to the ice on Wednesday at the Corel Centre in Ottawa, Pat Quinn who was not overly impressed with his teams effort, will no doubt be doing some tinkering and making a few changes before game time Wednesday.

Brian Leetch who gained two assists in Monday’s game expects a much tougher battle on Wednesday, as the two teams continue to feel each other out. He and his fellow team mates on Team USA don’t expect to run roughshod over the Canadians for the length of the tournament. And as they all realize, exhibition games are designed to highlight the flaws and allow for correction. Pat Quinn will be watching some film on Tuesday, ready to make the changes that will bring his team back up to high readiness when the part of the tournament that counts for real gets underway on August 30th.

No comments: