VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- When asked if could pinpoint Slovakia on a map, Team Canada defenseman
And where is that?
Boyle hesitated. "I know it's somewhere in Europe," he said, an answer as vague as Russia's passes against the Canadians the day before. "I don't know if I could pick out where the Czech Republic is."
This is not a critique of the grasp of world geography by a defenseman who has regained a significant role on Canada's blueline. After all, the game Canada will play against the Slovakians is the men's Olympic hockey semifinal, not "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?"
But for all the ritualistic scraping and bowing about the Slovaks -- by the time the Canadian players were done Thursday, Slovakia was sounding an awful lot like the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s -- there is something taxing about facing one of the generics, the only team of any repute that has not made an Olympic final since NHL players began participating in 1998.
Just as Team USA must put on blinkers against Finland and not ruminate about the dizzying possibility of a rematch against Canada in the gold-medal game -- more on the Finns and Americans in a minute -- Canada has to come down from its soaring triumph over Russia and maintain its equilibrium against a country that produces nifty forwards but is a cruiserweight among hockey's super heavies. Despite praise that was laid on with a trowel, Slovakia's shootout win over Russia in the round robin and a quarterfinal victory over listless Sweden didn't exactly send anyone in a maple leaf jersey sprinting to an atlas.
"They're maybe not a name brand," Canadian defenseman
In fact, their program has gotten the same. Slovakia has reached into Professor
Curiously the most dynamic Slovak forward has been
"I would not call it that," Bondra said when asked if reaching the semifinals represented a golden moment for players who are bordering on their expiration date. We have a mix of (young and old) players. We'll just be ready for the Canadians and do what we can ... Their roster has many more star players than my roster, no doubt."
Indeed. Other than Norris Trophy winner
For Team USA, redoubtable Finland, the 2006 silver medalists and the best team pound-for-pound in Turin, presents other sets of problems. While the Americans have forged a hockey identity based on speed, Finland has become known as the
Although the Finns shockingly capitulated in what ultimately was a meaningless match against Sweden to conclude the round robin -- "After they got a couple of goals down they didn't seem interested,"
"They're a very fast, very well organized," Miller said. "From what I've seen in early games, they have some big shots on the power play to mix with a lot of skill around the net. This will be a good test for our locker room, to see if we can keep our heads in the right spot."
"It's only natural if you're thinking about (a gold medal game)," defenseman
Finland is tough to overlook. It's that pretty long thing near Sweden and Russia on the map.