After taking to the ice for an up-tempo, hour-long workout Friday morning, Team Canada faced a ton of media questions about the marquee New Year’s Eve matchup between the host nation and the United States.
“It has definitely been circled by a lot of the media,” said forward David Bolland. “And for us the time has come, and it’s going to be a big one. We know it’s going to be a big game, and we always have to go hard against these guys.”
Should the USA defeat Team Switzerland tonight, the December 31 contest will decide who finishes atop of Group A with an unblemished record.
Team Canada comes into the contest after posting three consecutive wins against the Finns, the Swiss and Team Norway, while the USA has scored 17 goals in two games against the Norwegians and Team Finland.
There’s little question Saturday’s tilt with the Americans will be Canada’s toughest match in Round Robin play to date.
“You’re obviously always aware of the opposition, and the key players on the opposition,” said Team Canada Head Coach Brent Sutter. “There’s a game plan that you go in with, and we’re certainly going to have be disciplined within our own game plan. Part of that will rely on our awareness of who we’re playing against and doing a good job against them.”
Sutter stressed the need for his team to play a quick-skating, physical brand of hockey to be successful versus the Americans, and said his forwards need to create more traffic in front of the net than they did against the Norwegians.
“Even though [Norwegian goaltender Lars Haugen] had 50 shots on net, I thought he had seen a lot of those shots,” Sutter said. “You have to make it difficult on goalies to see shots and so you’ve got to have guys get [to the front of the net].”
With all the media hype surrounding the much anticipated contest, both Sutter and his players addressed the question of nerves going into tomorrow’s game.
“The thing about all of this is obviously we know the importance of the game and we know our opponent,” Sutter said. “Whether the kids are going to be too high or uptight, I can’t answer that right now. I hope we’re neither – I hope we stay level-headed, on an even keel and just go play and play like we can.”
Undaunted by the prospect of going up against the likes of Team USA forwards Phil Kessel and Robbie Schremp, Steve Downie expressed confidence in his team’s defence and its mental toughness in preparing for the game.
“You don’t really pay attention to [the pressure],” Downie said. “Our focus is on us and the way we play, and that’s how we’re going to keep things. We’ve got some great defencemen, and I’m totally comfortable with our defence back there. They’re solid.”
Another prominent storyline is the matchup between two 2006 NHL draft prospects who will vie for the #1 spot, Team USA’s Phil Kessel and Canada’s Jonathan Toews.
“There’s going to be a lot of people watching him, and obviously he’s a highly touted prospect, and definitely a player to watch,” Toews said. “But I’m not too worried about going head-to-head with him. I’m just trying to go out there and play a team game.”
Prior to addressing the media, Team Canada took to the Agrodome ice for a brief hour-long skate, a practice that focused on special teams and breakouts.
A power play unit featuring forwards Steve Downie, Dustin Boyd and David Bolland with defencemen Kris Russell and Cam Barker worked on quick puck movement and creating traffic in front of the net.
Each time a shot came through from the point, two Canadian forwards were planted firmly atop goaltender Justin Pogge’s crease.
At the other end of the rink, the remainder of Team Canada’s line-up peppered backup netminder Devan Dubnyk with shots, while fine-tuning breakouts and first passes out of the defensive zone.
Though the drills were conducted at a high pace, the players appeared loose, with loud, raucous celebrations echoing throughout the Agrodome after goals were scored.
Team Canada squares off against the USA at 16:00 on December 31 at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.