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In Olympics, lose one and you could be done

by Phil Coffey
One game.

That's it.

In the Olympic hockey tournament, one game is the difference between a joyous celebration at the medial podium and packing your bags and heading back to the real world.

It is what makes the tournament so alluring to fans -- and a tightrope walk for teams.

Just ask the powerful 1980 Soviet Union squad about one game. To this day, Vladislav Tretiak, Slava Fetisov and others will insist that if they played Team USA 100 times, they would win 99 of them.

Too bad. It was one game and the Americans shocked the world.

Fast forward to 2002 and the pain of a talented Swedish team that would beat Belarus by the same ratio. But it was one game and a long shot that beat Tommy Salo to end Sweden's medal hopes.

One game.

The one-game philosophy sure makes it interesting, even in 2010 where logic tells you Team Canada has more than enough goods to win this thing. Or the Russians, with their strong goaltending and potent offense.

But ...

"If you were to put us against Canada in 82 games, I don't like our chances," Sweden's Daniel Alfredsson said. "But to play them one game, we definitely can beat them."

"I don't think it's a given that Canada's going to win. Not at all," American forward Ryan Malone told reporters. "I mean, I can understand why people here feel that way. There's a lot of pride. Canadians learn to play hockey before they go to church. But I look around at the players I've seen here today, and I see not just two or three teams that can win this. I see a lot of them."

"That's the biggest thing of all," Malone said. "It's just one game. Anything can happen."

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a marathon, a grueling war of attrition in which the better team wins. The best-of-7 series usually means the better team wins -- not always, but usually. Those series are a true test of team building. The Olympics are the short form. Equally intriguing -- but perhaps more dangerous to the favored club.

"Honestly, do you think they will have a parade in Moscow if the Russians go home with a silver medal?" Team Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman said.

"They won't. The expectation in Russia is gold. The expectation in Sweden is gold and, whether they admit or not, the USA is in this to win a gold medal -- and I won't forget any of the other countries, as well. All of us are playing to win a gold medal, and every team that doesn't will be disappointed.

"To me, it's like the Stanley Cup Final," Yzerman said. "Basically, you are going to play six or seven games to win a gold medal."

Yzerman argued that the three-game pool play portion of the tournament is not all that important because it is only for seeding purposes as before the knockout portion of the tournament --  which can be as many as four win-or-be-done games in a six-day period.

"You have those first three games, much like in a NHL playoff series, you're not possibly eliminated until the fourth game," he said. "It's the same type of situation here. We play Norway, Switzerland and the USA (in pool play), and then whether we play a qualification game or not. You have to win those games from that point on. That's the way we have to treat it, like we are playing in a Stanley Cup Final series.

"There's a little bit more uncertainty, but all the teams are in the same situation. We have basically a week to get it all figured out before you face a game where you could get eliminated."

Time heals all wounds  -- Tomas Vokoun admitted to Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post that the bronze medal he won with the Czech Republic in 2006 is starting to look better and better.

Why? Vokoun, now the top goalie for the Czechs in Vancouver has some perspective on it all.

"I think with lots of time passing by, you appreciate any medal from the Olympics," Vokoun said. "Not many people in the world have a medal from the Olympics. At the time, it was kind of disappointing, but looking back, I'm proud of that."

Vokoun basically saved the Czechs' bacon in Torino after Dominik Hasek was injured and unable to play. He got the win over Russia that gave the Czechs the bronze.

Well Said I -- "Every pass is in your wheelhouse, the saucers land. He's a very dynamic player. The first goal he put it right in there. One fake and he gives you a wide-open shot and Nash was right in front. He takes so much attention. He can shoot. He can do it all. He does it all." -- Jarome Iginla on Sidney Crosby

Coming of age -- This is how young Drew Doughty is.

"I remember when I was younger, in '02 when Team Canada won in Salt Lake City," Doughty told's Josh Brewster. "We'd get out of class and watch the games in the afternoon. It was pretty cool doing that. In Canada, hockey is like a religion. I remember them winning that gold and the whole country was watching them."

This is how talented Drew Doughty is.

He played 15:21 in Team Canada's opening win of the 2010 Olympic tournament.

Yes, the 20-year-old Doughty is for real. Consider the number of proven NHL defensemen he beat out for a coveted roster spot and you have one of the great stories of these Olympics.

He did admit to Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times that stepping on the ice for the game against Norway was surreal.

"I was a little in awe," he said. "Passing the puck to guys like Joe Thornton and Sidney Crosby was a little weird. I really didn't know what to think. I didn't want to make a mistake.

"But once we've gotten settled in and I've gotten to know the guys a little it's been a lot easier."

In the process, Doughty continues to make believers.

"He's got a lot of composure with the puck and is obviously a great skater," no less an authority than Chris Pronger told Elliott. "He can move the puck very well and he's got a good shot. It's a lot of fun playing with him."

Well Said II -- "It's a nice compliment, a great honor, but more than that I've been lucky over the years. This is my fifth Olympics and I've always played with great players, so good things happen." -- Teemu Selanne on tying the modern Olympic hockey scoring record (36 points) with an assist on Wednesday

Parise's coming-out party  -- Inside the New Jersey Devils' dressing room, Zach Parise isn't underrated or unknown. Around NHL rinks, ditto. But on an international stage, Parise may lag behind a bit. However, the Vancouver Games may well change all that.

Parise is one of Team USA's emerging stars, a cornerstone for the next generation of American players, and competing for Team USA will provide some name recognition.

"It's going to be a good opportunity," Devils and Team USA captain Jamie Langenbrunner told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen  Record. "He's probably going to get to play with a couple of extremely talented guys that are going to make even him that much better and it's going to be definitely a chance to show everybody. This is just the type of tournament where he's going to be focused and excited to be a part of it."

"That makes it more fun when you really have the whole country supporting you," Parise said. "A lot of times people don't know the world championships are going on. It does seem like you have the non-ordinary hockey fans that are going to be tuning in, which is awesome.

"It's important for us to have a good tournament and play well and kind of sell the game in the U.S."

Handing you an anchor  -- One of the great lines about trades goes like this: When I needed a lifeline, they handed me an anchor.

Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has experienced that in the days leading up to the Olympic roster freeze, telling the Boston Herald: "The deals that are out there are complete horse (expletive) right now," Chiarelli said. "And that's no fault of the sellers because there are only a few sellers and they're asking for the moon and it's not something I'm willing to give. While you have to be careful, you can be aggressive also, and I fashion myself and my staff as proactive when it comes to these things. By the same token, a deal for the sake of a deal is usually not the right deal to make."

So, while Chiarelli may have been more than a little tempted to make any kind of deal during the Bruins' January doldrums, he kept his wits -- and his assets -- about him.

"There's some credence to some people saying you've lost 10 games in a row, you've got to shake things up. There is. And I respect the fact that people are saying, 'You should have shaken things up,' " Chiarelli said. "But what I saw in the last four or five games in that stretch is that we were coming out of it, and I said that at the time. I saw our chances getting better and, frankly, we have come out of it.

"In hindsight, I do a deal in that 10 games - and it may come back to haunt me that I didn't do a deal then - and I make a deal that's a lateral deal, then maybe we go even further south."

Well Said III -- "David Backes does a lot of pick-and-shovel jobs on a team well. The goals we got from that line is a bonus. Their role later in the tournament is going to be different. But when you get unexpected sources that chip in, that's a very important part of being successful in a tournament." -- Team USA GM Brian Burke

Olympic Gear Cam-ing out for Wild  -- Chuck Fletcher continues to remake the Minnesota Wild in his image, with the latest piece being defenseman Cam Barker, acquired from the Blackhawks prior to the Olympic roster freeze.

"Frankly, I don't know how you get guys like that: 23-year-old defensemen who haven't even entered the prime of their career," Fletcher told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "We felt this was an opportunity to get a good, young player."

For his part, Barker is eager to get started with his new team.

"You always have something to prove," he said. "Coming here, that's exactly my mindset. I want to do well. I want to help the team. That playoff spot is what we're gunning for.

"Fans are hungry for hockey here. They want a winning team. That's a good thing to be a part of."

After netting 40 points last season, Barker has just 14 points this season and was averaging 13:05 of ice time per game -- the lowest among the Blackhawks' regulars on defense. That figures to change in a very big way with the Wild.

"I gave him a little of the expectations," coach Todd Richards said. "Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing he hasn't done in the past. Just be himself. Earn the ice time. He'll get a great opportunity and I'm excited to see what he can do."

Oilers relish break  -- Let's face it, 2009-10 has been miserable for the Edmonton Oilers, so perhaps the break for the Olympics will be the pause that refreshes.

"It's going to be nice to get away from the game," captain Ethan Moreau admitted to the Edmonton Sun. "It's been a pretty tough 60 games mentally for everyone. It'll be a welcome break for sure."

"You try not to let yourself get wrapped up in our position," defenseman Steve Staios said. "It's been very difficult to take but you have to keep soldiering on and show up to work. You can't let yourself get down."

"We're in a unique situation here," coach Pat Quinn said. "There probably isn't a lot to think about in a positive frame of mind except self-improvement and being a professional and making sure you understand that people who've supported us deserve to have at least good effort.

"We constantly try to remind ourselves that that's our obligation. It's not token thing, it's an every day thing."

Well Said IV  -- "With the different tie-breakers and things, goals matter. I don't think you want to completely bury a team, but we're certainly not going to stop shooting the puck, or stop going to the net. We don't want to create any bad habits for our team. They can creep in pretty quickly if you let your foot off the gas pedal." -- Team Canada defenseman Chris Pronger

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