Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Most businesslike road trip

Two games into the Olympic Hockey tournament and we get a picture of a Canadian team that shows up at the rink, punches the time clock, gets to work and then punches out, ready to return the next day to do it all over again.

The first two games so far from Team Canada have been exercises in formula hockey. They are a team careful not to make too many mistakes, successful in execution and reserved in celebration. Now perhaps it’s just a matter of playing to the state of your competition, neither Italy nor Germany ever really posed much of a threat to Canadian claims of hockey achievement. But so far the highlight reel goals are more the result of positional play than firewagon like hockey.

On Thursday, the Germans played a more physical game than Canada probably expected, so enthralled were the Germans with the idea of hitting and slowing down the Canadians that they spent far too much time serving penalties and not near enough down by Roberto Luongo. Had the Germans been a little more persistent in the Canadian end, the 5-1 final score most likely would have been a little closer and the Canadians a little more worried about the occassional sloppy play in their own end.

Luongo was guilty of some unusual wandering at times, giving the Germans more than a few opportunities to score, all of which went by the wayside as empty nets were missed and posts rattled off of all to no avail.

At no time did Canada look to be in any real difficulty though, you sensed that if they really had felt like it, the killer instinct would have kicked in and they would have rattled two or three extra goals in for good measure.

But these early games are to be an adjustment period for the NHLers drafted to the Canadian cause, leaving behind their team systems from Sunday, they now are slowly picking up the plans outlined by Quinn, Hitchcock et al as they march on to what they hope will be a Gold Medal match next week. Today's pace was a little quicker than yesterday's, the passes a little sharper, the shots harder, the hits more punishing. It's a short road to where they want to go, and they don't have much time to get there, but it looks like Pat Quinn is increasing the tempo daily for his team.

The next shift at the Torino hockey factory comes up on Saturday; Canada plays a surprising Swiss squad that is coming off perhaps the biggest game in Swiss hockey history. The Swiss led by David Aebischer shut down the Czech Republic on Thursday taking a 3-2 surprise victory from the Czechs.

In a way the Swiss victory may work in Canada’s favor, that simple feat of knocking off a hockey power such as the Czechs may have pretty well polished this Olympic moment as a success, whatever happens next for Switzerland is background info for their big moment in the sun.

The Canadians won’t be taking the Swiss lightly now either, having shut down Jaromir Jagr and his friends, the Swiss have served a bit of a notice that they’re to be taken seriously in this tournament. The Canadians, who are slowly building up their intensity in this tournament, will no doubt not wish to follow the fate of the Czechs.

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