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Upset talk has Canada Hockey Place abuzz

by Greg Inglis
A worldwide audience was treated to hours of sensational hockey, cliff-hanging drama and intense emotion at Canada Hockey Place Thursday as Olympic tournament heavyweights Canada and Russia were taken to shootouts by heroic underdogs Switzerland and Slovakia.

"Following a game in which Switzerland pushed heavily favored Canada to the shootout before losing, the Slovakians did what the Swiss couldn't. They finished the upset," writes Craig Custance in The Sporting News.

"Slovakia's victory combined with Switzerland's performance against Team Canada led to a wise warning from Russian goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Those ready to prematurely crown the Russians or Canadians in this hockey tournament just might want to wait.

"In my opinion, when everybody was talking about [how] Russia and Canada was supposed to be in the final, guys, you're too rushed," Bryzgalov said. "There's too many good teams out there. Be careful with your predictions."

"Be careful, indeed," Custance warns. "Who could ever predict that the high-powered Russian offense would have trouble scoring against a banged-up Slovakian team that played the night before? And who would predict that Switzerland would throttle Canada's power play and push the home-favorites to the brink of a disastrous loss?"

The Toronto Star's Damien Cox drew the same conclusion: "All in all, it was a day that proved just how difficult it will be for any country to capture this Olympic men's hockey tournament. Even the top teams, it seems, will be life and death to win games against supposed weaker countries."

That certainly was the case in yesterday's Canada-Switzerland instant classic.

"All you have to do is watch a game like Canada's 3-2 shootout victory over the tiny hockey nation of Switzerland to understand why the Olympic hockey tournament is so magical," writes's Scott Burnside. "The Canadian roster will make more than a $120 million combined this season, and the country could have iced three Olympic-caliber rosters. And yet, on this day, the anonymous Swiss battled mighty Canada to a virtual standstill. They came back from a 2-0 deficit and went to extra shootout goals before bowing to the Canadians 3-2 and proved again that it is the sum of the parts, not necessarily how much money the parts make, that defines a team at a tournament like this."

"Canada had to wait 12 years to exorcize its Olympic shootout demons," adds Burnside's colleague Pierre LeBrun. "And this time, the team didn't leave its superstar on the bench for it. Sidney Crosby was 10 years old when Wayne Gretzky famously stayed glued to the bench during a semifinal shootout against the Czech Republic, one that broke the hearts of Canadians around the world and left 'The Great One' staring disbelievingly into space.

"I do remember, I was home watching like every other Canadian," Crosby said Thursday night.

"Sid the Kid got not one but two chances Thursday night, and you figured he probably wouldn't miss the second time around. With 17,019 fans standing and howling at the top of their lungs, and likely 35 million or so more doing the same in living rooms and bars from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain skated in on marvelous Jonas Hiller and coolly knifed a shot that beat the Switzerland netminder stick side. Just as he had dreamed of doing as a kid in Cole Harbour."

Alan Robinson, a frequent witness to Crosby's heroics as a Pittsburgh-based correspondent for the Associated Press, writes that Crosby "single-handedly prevented a coast-to-coast Canadian panic attack ... Across Canada, there was a single response: Whew, was that close."

Will the close call help Canada in the long run? As the Vancouver Sun's Iain MacIntyre explains, "There is a theory, unequivocally endorsed Thursday night by Team Canada coach Mike Babcock, that no team wins anything without suffering a little first. Without a good scare. This is especially popular thinking among teams that blow two-goal leads against Switzerland at the Olympics and require a shootout to win 3-2 against a plucky, relentless team that hasn't finished higher than sixth at a major international tournament since 1924, when it was beaten 33-0 by Canada.

"Canadians had a fright Thursday. And it was great. It caused cardiac arrest across the nation, cost Team Canada a point in the preliminary-round standings, and fertilized seeds of self-doubt planted at the last Olympics when the Canadians went China Syndrome and finished seventh. Other than that, it's all good."

"Take a pill, Canada," implores the Globe and Mail's Roy MacGregor. "Trauma units are standing by for Sunday's game against the United States of America."

Ah yes, Team USA, who moved to 2-0 in Olympic play with a 6-1 victory over Norway in the early game yesterday.

"We felt good, but I think we can be better, and we will be," says Team USA defenseman Ryan Whitney in his Olympic diary he is sharing with the Orange County Register. "We had a good first period and a good third, but I know we can be better in the second. It's good to be 2-0 going into the Canada game on Sunday and that's what we had hoped for. We knew that Sunday would be the game that really determines if we get the bye into the quarterfinals."

"For the Americans, this Olympic hockey tournament is about to go from warmup to sizzling hot -- red and white hot," writes Paul Hunter in the Toronto Star. "After two relatively easy wins over the Swiss and Norwegians -- though Norway did turn the U.S. 6-1 victory Thursday into an intriguing contest for about 25 minutes -- next up for Team USA is Canada as one of hockey's most intense rivalries hits centre stage on Sunday.

"This is going to be an unbelievable. I'm anticipating one of the best atmospheres I've been in since, probably, the third game of the '96 World Cup," said American coach Ron Wilson.

"Now it's the Olympics ... every TV in Canada is going to be watching it. I think because it's on Sunday, a good many in the United States (will have it on it on too.) Anybody who's a hockey fan will be watching that game."

Olympic Gear Hunter agrees: "It's impossible to dismiss Wilson's hype as hyperbole."

"You could sense the looming showdown in the atmosphere at Canada Hockey Place," adds Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "As the U.S. team faltered briefly during a 6-1 win over Norway, the mostly Canadian crowd let its loyalties show with chants of "Let's go, Norway!" ... Everyone understands. If the intensity was at 2 for this game, it will be set at a Spinal Tap-esque 11 Sunday."

Kind words for Team USA's Ryan Malone from Dejan Kovacevic in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "If Pittsburgh athletes are going to excel in this Olympic hockey tournament, chances are excellent it will be one of the Penguins' stars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. So far, though, the most striking surprise might be Pittsburgh's only native Olympian. Ryan Malone, born and raised in Upper St. Clair, again led the United States with a goal, an assist and a timely screen in the 6-1 rout of Norway Thursday at Canada Hockey Place. He is the Americans' leading scorer through two victories, and his line with Phil Kessel and Joe Pavelski has been the team's best by a wide margin."

Speaking of local heroes, are Vancouver Canucks stars Daniel and Henrik Sedin in top shape for Team Sweden as they vie for Olympic gold in their NHL home rink?

"Henrik's lead in the NHL scoring race has evaporated and he failed to score in his last seven games. Daniel also didn't score in his last seven prior to the Olympics, and a pointless performance by the twins against the Germans raised some eyebrows," writes Canucks beat writer Ben Kuzma of the Vancouver Province. "So did Henrik's stiff stride from muscle spasms in his back suffered during the rigours of a recent eight-game NHL road trip. 'It's actually better and getting better every day,' said Henrik. 'It's here and there and it hurts, but not during the game. We had a lot of games, a lot of travelling and a lot of soft beds. It's nothing serious.'"
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