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Team Canada seeking a spark


I'm not sure what the country was looking for from Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman on Monday night. Passion? Reassurance? A promise of something more? But it sure wasn't this:

"We just can't go out and expect that we're going to go undefeated and win a gold medal in every tournament," Yzerman announced to a crowded press conference in Vancouver. "We're living it. We understand that and our players knew that coming in. I think the country has to understand that as well, that we're going to face adversity."

Come on, Steve. Give us a little credit. Despite how the American media has painted us since our loss to Team USA on Sunday night, we're not a nation that needs to have our shoelaces and belts confiscated. These are the most savvy hockey fans in the world. Canadians may demand gold, but we're not oblivious to the fact that there are no guarantees.

A promise of victory wouldn't be in keeping with your character, or ours, for that matter. Still, couching your expectation is the last thing that Canada needs right now, either the country or the team.

What it needs is a spark.

Sure, Phil Esposito turned the '72 Summit Series around with a similar message, but he delivered it with heartfelt emotion that brought the team together. Wayne Gretzky famously managed to light a fuse with a fiery, circle-the-wagons oratory after the Czech game in 2002.

What do we get in 2010?

Can't win 'em all.

Thanks, Steve. Can only imagine how stirring your "Wait 'till next year!" speech will be.

If Team Canada is going to get this turned around, someone needs to step up and provide the emotion that's been sadly lacking from this squad through the first three games. Clearly it won't be Yzerman. At least the tinkering by his coach in practice on Monday suggested some sense of urgency in the Canadian camp.

No surprise that Mike Babcock will shuffle the deck up front. Eric Staal, who had his best game of the tournament against the Americans, and Jarome Iginla will ride shotgun for Sidney Crosby on the top line.

Rick Nash, who has shown a willingness to drive the net but remains goalless after nine Olympic matches, drops down to skate alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

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Brenden Morrow and Jonathan Toews, the duo that best established Canada's physical presence against the Americans, will saddle up with Mike Richards.

The San Jose Sharks line of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau will remain intact. Patrice Bergeron, a fine player who unfortunately has evolved into this year's Rob Zamuner, will see spot duty on the penalty kill and maybe the odd defensive zone face-off.

It's a good start, especially the teaming of Getzlaf and Nash, a duo that has experienced success at the World Championships. But it's been apparent since the early stages of the game against Switzerland that simply rearranging the deck chairs won't cure all of this team's ills. The question now is whether Babcock will shorten his bench in-game in order to create extra ice for those who deserve it.

Forget the bruised egos. Rolling four lines isn't getting it done. Going into tonight's must-win match against Germany, there are plenty of candidates for pine time. Certainly Thornton's Invisible Man routine against Team USA -- and who on earth could have imagined Jumbo Joe fading into the background during a critical game? -- suggests he's due for spot duty. So is Perry, whose soft play led directly to Ryan Kesler's crushing empty-netter. These guys have had three games to prove their value to the team. If they couldn't demonstrate it in the prelims, there's no reason to think they'll turn it on for the tougher sledding.

Babcock appears to have found his go-to defenders in Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty. The duo chewed up heavy minutes in the American game and were on the ice for much of Canada's furious final assault. Shea (please shoot more) Weber has earned the third spot, likely alongside Scott Niedermayer, the least frustrating of the veterans. Brent Seabrook's been fine in limited doses, but Dan Boyle and Chris Pronger seem to burn a little more of Babcock's trust with every shift. It would take a strong hand to bury a pair like that, but their inability to keep up with the breakneck pace makes them a liability to the team.

Benching them would send a strong message. But if there's a spark to be had, it's most likely to come from the decision to hand the torch to Roberto Luongo.

Undoubtedly, there will be those who feel that Martin Brodeur was unfairly cast in the role of team scapegoat after the USA loss, or that he wasn't given a fair shake by Babcock.


Could the coach have been more tactful in his handling of the decision? Sure. But as Babcock noted, Canada is in the winning business. Brodeur may be the greatest goalie of all-time, but not of this time. After posting a .837 save percentage through two starts, he had to know this was coming. Time for him to grab his baseball cap and play the good soldier.

As for Luongo, well, this is his rink, these are his fans, and now this is his team. Time for him to shake that "what's he ever won?" label.

His chance starts tonight against the Germans, a gritty, well-coached side that will try to keep it close with their defensive composure, but it's also a team that should be thinking about catching an early standby flight home by the end of the first period.

After that, the path gets steep and rocky in a hurry, starting Wednesday with Russia. If Canada's going to make it, someone has to lead the way.

Maybe that person will reveal himself tonight.