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Yzerman, Canada over Russia, focused on Slovakia

by Dan Rosen
VANCOUVER -- It's the morning after Canada's biggest and most important win in the Olympics since 2002, and Steve Yzerman already has moved on.

That's how things work in a one-and-done tournament when the prize remains a couple of games away.

"Now we have, yeah," Team Canada's executive director told Thursday morning. "You feel good about the game last night, our players do, but then you get up and meet with the coaches and they are already in preparation for Slovakia, so you just don't have a lot of time. It's much like a playoff series -- you feel good about the last game and wake up the next morning and start to get ready for the next game."

The next game is Friday (9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT, NBC, CTV) in the semifinals against Slovakia. The Slovaks upset Sweden 4-3 just hours after Canada crushed Russia 7-3.

Sweden would have been a more familiar opponent for Team Canada coach Mike Babcock, considering he'd be coaching against four of his own players from the Detroit Red Wings, but Canada isn't like the rest of the hockey world that is surprised by Slovakia.

The Canadians know their opponent well and have been following them closely.

"There is a lot of familiarity," Yzerman said. "(Branko) Radivojevic, (Zigmund) Palffy, (Richard) Zednik -- all those guys that used to play in the NHL we know very well. And obviously (Zdeno) Chara, (Marian) Hossa, (Marian) Gaborik, etc. They have been in the NHL a long time so we know those players. The majority of hockey fans know those guys, too. They are not unfamiliar to us. You can't say you don't know this guy and that guy. They're good and we've been watching them."

More important, Yzerman has been watching his own team improve on a game-to-game basis. He tried to make everyone believe that was happening Monday, roughly 24 hours after the U.S. struck fear into Canada with a 5-3 victory.

After seeing Canada siphon all the gas out of the Russian machine Wednesday, Yzerman's words are ringing true.

"It's much easier, I think, to be on the inside with the team and in the locker room because the coaches see what's going on and gauge the atmosphere of the team, where you're going and what you're trying to accomplish," Yzerman said. "Everyone watching is like, 'Oh my God, they lost.' You feel like the world has come to an end. But we have all been at this for a long time, playing in these tournaments, and you just can't get discouraged. You have to analyze each game for what it is.

"(Wednesday) night, as good as things were, there are things we have to improve upon for the next game. Now that we're in the elimination phase it's a little bit different because you have to win, but that's the way it is. You win a game and everything is great, but you lose and the world comes to an end. For the players and coaches, they know you just keep moving on."

Team Canada GearThe same holds true for Slovakia. Yzerman, for one, is not about to take the surprise semifinalists lightly -- nor is he buying into the argument that Slovakia has nothing to lose in Friday's semifinal.

"They want to win a gold medal, too, and they are in a position that if they win two games they get to win a gold medal," he said. "It's not like if they lose the game they are going to be happy. We've all got something to lose. They have beaten Russia and Sweden, two of the favorites for gold, so they are a very good team." 

With the Canada's focus squarely on Slovakia, the celebration after steamrolling Russia seems like it happened in another decade.

"The desperation increases," Yzerman said. "Every game gets tougher as the importance of the game grows."

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