VANCOUVER – Two Olympic GMs were talking Monday about the way their teams have played so far in this tournament and they had vastly different takes on their respective situations.
The first GM assessed his team’s play by saying, “I’m not happy with the way we’ve played to this point. If that’s how we’re going to play, we’re going to have a hard time getting to where we want to and get medaling.”
Speaking a little later, the other GM summed his team’s play by saying, “We’ve done a lot of really good things that have been very encouraging. In general, I think we’re very pleased with how the team’s playing.”
You might be surprised to learn the first speaker was Brian Burke, whose USA team sits as the No. 1 seed with a 3-0-0 record and the second was Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman, whose team sits in sixth place and has an entire country on a suicide watch.
Interesting what good goaltending can do for you, isn’t it? The Americans have received it and it has covered up a ton of warts. Canada did not in its most crucial game so far of the tournament and it undermined a whole bunch of good things.
So it was no surprise when Canadian coach Mike Babcock announced Monday he would be handing the goaltending duties to Roberto Luongo, effectively for the rest of the tournament. Because as he said, if Luongo falters now, the Canadians will be out of the tournament.
“We’re in the winning business,” Babcock said of replacing Martin Brodeur with Luongo, “and to win anything at a high level, you need big saves and you need momentum-changing saves and we’re looking for Lou to do that for us. He’s a great big butterfly goaltender and if you look at the way the pucks went in the net (in Sunday’s 5-3 loss to USA), with traffic and people in front of you a lot, sometimes being down in that butterfly it just tends to hit you. We believe Lou gives us a really good opportunity to win and that’s why we made the decision.”
There were also hints that there will be a changing of the guard on the Canadian defense, with veterans such as Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Dan Boyle getting reduced minutes and giving way to the likes of Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith and Shea Weber, with No. 7 man Brent Seabrook seeing more responsibility.
Yzerman wasn’t about to make any bold proclamations about the rest of the world hating Canada the way Wayne Gretzky did in 2002, but he did want to point out that nobody with the team predicted this tournament would be a cakewalk for the pre-tournament favorite.
“These (opposing) teams are really good,” Yzerman said, “and we can’t just go out in these tournaments and expect we’re going to go undefeated and win a gold medal in every tournament. We’re living it. Our players knew that coming in and I think the country has to understand that as well. We’re not sitting here in total shock saying, ‘How could we be in this position?’ We weren’t surprised by (American goalie Ryan) Miller’s play, we weren’t surprised by anything. People have to realize these countries are good.”
But the other countries didn’t enter the Olympics with a promise to “Own the Podium” in these Games, a proclamation by the Canadian Olympic Association that has come back to haunt the Canadian athletes in all sports. Going into Monday night’s events, Canada sat fifth overall in the medal count with four golds, four silvers and a bronze, 15 medals behind the front-running Americans and 12 behind Germany.
A gold medal in hockey would go a long way to soothing Canadians, but starting Tuesday, the path to get there will be daunting. Should Canada defeat Germany, it will face Russia in the quarterfinal and if victorious, there’s a good chance it will go against Sweden in the semifinal game.
Ken Campbell is in Vancouver covering the Olympic hockey tournaments for THN.com. Read his other reports HERE.
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