Tuesday, August 31, 2004

World Cup quest takes to the ice, Finns take Game Number One

With summer taking its last sunny (well in some parts of Canada) licks at August, we turned our attention to Hockey. A 10 am puck drop on the west coast, ushered in the 2004 edition of the World Cup of Hockey as Finland and the Czech Republic broke the ice on the much anticipated tournament. The Finnish team entertained the hometown fans in Helsinki with a convincing 4-0 victory over a rather disinterested looking bunch of Czech skaters.

Miikka Kiprusoff had a relatively easy time of things as the Czechs only managed to put 12 shots on net in the 60 minutes of hockey. Tomas Vokoun at the other end was facing a veritable barrage of shots. Vokoun was the lone stand out in a Czech uniform, as the Finns fired 30 shots at the Nashville Predator product. Despite his best efforts Finland scored four times, three of them in the final period of play.

Finland got the first goal of the tournament mid way through the first period, when Swiss league player Jukka Hentunen put the first puck past Vokoun, they held that 1-0 lead into the third when the floodgates opened with a vengeance. As the third period began the Finns scored on a goal from Montreal Canadien, Saku Koivu who wears the C in his duties with Team Finland, Niko Kapenen of the Dallas Stars scored shortly after that with goal number three and Mikko Eloranta, one of two Finnish league players on the Team Finland line-up wrapped up the scoring midway through the final period.

The Czechs who entered the tournament reeling from the tragic loss of their head coach Ivan Hlinka never seemed to get untracked. Sluggish, disorganized and exhibiting no interest in playing defence the Czechs looked relieved to be leaving the ice after 60 minutes of play, having hardly broken a sweat.

Vladimir Ruzicka who was pressed into the head coaching duties upon the death of Hlinka has the unenviable job of trying to get the Czech squads heads back into the game. With a rather deep line up, its surprising that the effort wasn’t there Monday, if the Czechs are going to make any kind of run in this tournament the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Milan Hejduk, Tomas Kaberle and Robert Reichel are going to have to take a more determined leadership role onto the ice and into the dressing room.

Game one was not a stellar debut for the Czechs, who seemed to surrender ice and opportunity at the first sign of opposition. Saku Koivu even mentioned the rather easy time his Finnish team had in this opening game. They get to test the ice again on Thursday when they travel to Cologne to take on the German squad. For the Czechs the road doesn’t get any easier, their next match is Wednesday at Stockholm when the face the Swedish team at the Globe Arena. A few more efforts like that on Monday and they won’t need to make any reservations for the trip to North America.

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