PRAGUE –It’s called Canadian character and that trump card is why Canada is going for its second straight gold at the World Hockey Championship.
Just ask Daniele Briere.
"I will be honest with you," Briere was saying after Canada beat Slovakia 2-1 in Saturday’s semifinal game. "It was a little weird the first week here with the coach change and everything going on. I mean it seems everything was going to go wrong right from the beginning
"On the ice we were not playing well, the power play was atrocious and nothing was going in the right direction. But that is the thing about Canadians and I do not know if it is history or what. I have been here two years and we find ways to get it done and it is the same feeling right now. We are facing a lot of adversity and we are finding ways to come out on top."
That’s character with a capital "C".
"It is the Canadian character right there. We had a lot of things going against us and we just stood together as a team and we battled hard and here we are in the final again," added goalie Roberto Luongo.
Canada will play Sweden for the world title on Sunday in a rematch of the ’03 world final in Helsinki.
The last time Canada won consecutive world titles was 1958-59 and ironically the ’59 tournament was in Prague. And since NHLers started coming to Europe to wear Canada’s colors at the world tournament in 1977, Canada has been crowned world champion three times, in 1994, 19.
Ryan Smyth is pumped about the chance to win his second world title.
"It’s a great opportunity," he said.
Nobody put a gun to head of Briere and his teammates to come to the world tournament. Much is being made of the ’04 tournament being an audition for the World Cup of Hockey but Briere’s name is never mentioned as a candidate.
Briere is here because he loves the game and he wants to play meaningful hockey.
"It is fun to be here. For the players that are here, we did not have the chance to make the long run in the playoffs. We did not have the chance to win a Game 7 type of game so I see it as a lot of players to have the chance to play in a big game, a game that means a lot. Even though it is not the NHL we are in Europe representing the country so that is very special."
The Slovaks scored first, with Miroslav Satan's beating Luongo on a rebound 10 seconds into the second period.
Briere tied it on a screen shot at 12:18 while Canada was on a power play.
The winner came on a play in the third period which the Slovaks felt cheated them of the win.
Slovak goalie Jan Lasak went behind his net to play the puck when Rob Niedermayer appeared to interfere with him. Lasak fell down and the puck worked its way to the point and Shawn Horcoff netted the winner on a rebound as Lasak scrambled his way back into the net.
American referee Rick Looker signaled a goal but the Slovaks wanted it called off and a penalty on the play. Lasak then banged his stick over the crossbar and he was steaming after the game.
"There should have been a call and that was a big shock for me. I was surprised he didn’t make the call," said Lasak. "I was out of position and the second guy put the puck in the net.
"Let’s be honest. If we lose 4-1, 5-1 you can tell yourself I made a mistake and it is my fault, the team didn’t play well. In a game like this it is 2-1 and the referee makes a mistake, it hurts. I don’t want to blame him, but you can see what happened. He gave them three penalties like he would not call before. He knew he made a mistake . . . I do not think we should lose like that."
Horcoff’s goal came at 6:10 and Looker then gave the Canadians three straight minor penalties, at 6:33, 9:19 and 13:03.
"Our penalty killing was great," said Coach Mike Babcock.
The semifinal win also guaranteed Canada would keep its No. 1 ranking in the world regardless of Sunday's outcome, meaning the Canadians will be the top seed at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.