Saturday, August 21, 2004

The ice is fresh and the skates are sharp

Team Canada has its first two practices under its belt and the general attitude is one of great expectations and anxiousness to get to the job at hand. As Al Strachan points out in a piece on Canoe, there’s nobody dreading the call to work here. No tries to think up creative injuries to avoid giving up their summer vacation to don the sweater and play for their country. In fact faced with any kind of injury many times the player will wait til the last possible moment to give up the chance, normally with the greatest disappointment.

The risks must come close to outweighing the rewards. Every time Canada goes into an international hockey competition we expect the team to win. Hockey we say is still our game, Winning is expected, losing rarely factored in. Woe is the team that doesn’t come back with the gold medal, the world trophy or whatever trinket offered up by the organizing committee. A loss can send countless hockey fans off to therapy, wondering what is wrong with our game, why we didn’t win. Secure a win and its business as usual, a quicker gait to our step, a little taller in our walk.

With that kind of pressure, Team Canada takes to the practice rink at the University of Ottawa. Players normally thought of as the star attraction on their club teams; try to find the best way to fit into a system. Building a team such as this ends with the young phenom of the moment, suddenly a star struck kid in the face of long time veterans sharing a stall, a hunk of the bench or the ice in a scrimmage.

While they shake out the rust they get put through their paces by Head Coach Pat Quinn, who will put together the lines, draw up the plays and sit back and marvel at the talent lined up before him.

A few more practices and they face their first test of the pre tournament phase, and exhibition game against the USA in Columbus on Monday night. Long time rivals, the two teams will rekindle a match up that has resulted in memorable and quite physical games. No slow break in period this time around, it’s right to work, right away.

The practice rounds will continue until they drop the puck on August 31st in Montreal against the USA. With the NHL season still up in the air, the two weeks that follow that first game, should prove to be an intense and fast paced tribute to our national game. If we are to be faced with no hockey come mid September at least we’ll be going out in style.

With any luck the NHL owners will realize just what a special game they have, or we’ll realize just what it is were going to lose. Either way we’re bound to be left with some pretty impressive memories by the end of the tournament, let’s hope that it’s not all we have to remember over the long run!

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