PRAGUE – Canada won a big game and it looks certain Hockey Canada has secured a huge tournament.
Canada beat Finland 5-4 in overtime in the first of two quarter-final games at the World Hockey Championship on Thursday. On Saturday, the Canadians play Slovakia who beat Switzerland in Thursday's other quarter-final.
The day started with news from the International Ice Hockey Federation that Canada is the only country bidding for the 2008 World Championship tournament. Sweden and Germany withdrew their opposing bids.
The official announcement will come Friday after the IHF congress votes and rubber-stamps the Canadian bid.
The IIHF is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2008 and IIHF President Rene Fasel has not hid his desire to have a birthday party in Canada.
" We're going to Canada for the 100-year anniversary (of the IIHF) and that's going to be a special celebration," said Fasel in a statement.
The Finns were ahead 2-0 at one point but the Canadians rallied for a 2-2 tie heading into the third. Twice the Finns took the lead and twice the Canadians scored to force the extra period.
Heatley was on a 3-on-1 and was two steps inside Finland’s blue line when he unleashed a slap shot that beat goalie Mikka Noronen high to the stick side at 5:33. It was a major league shot by a big-time player. Heatley leads the tournament with seven goals.
Wayne Gretzky was watching the game at his Los Angeles home and called assistant GM Kevin Lowe here in the Czech capital minutes after the Canadians secured the semifinal berth.
" Gretz said he is a hockey player. He is just a hockey player," said Lowe. (Translation: Heatley is the complete package).
Heatley’s year has been well documented and his teammates are pulling for him. They’re amazed he is as focused as he is considering he was involved in a fatal car accident last September and missed almost three months with a knee injury.
" It is great so see Dany Heatley . . . from what all he has been through this past year it is a great thing," said Ryan Smyth.
Danny Briere called Heatley Canada’s most valuable player.
" He’s the guy who turns games around and he did it again tonight," said Briere. "It’s amazing he is able to do it on the ice mentally and physically. What makes him so good? There is another explanation right there. To overcome what happened this year and to be dominant at this tournament this year just speaks for itself."
Heatley doesn’t have a lot to say about being Canada’s go-to guy.
" It’s fun," he says. "I just try to get it on the net in overtime. You just want to shoot everything . . . I don’t think they all go in but I’ll take that one any day.’
Canada coach Mike Babcock figures Heatley is on the cusp of greatness.
Defencemen Steve Staios and Eric Brewer also scored for Canada, and Luongo was sensational.
Luongo faced 41 shots and he must have thought that was the porous Florida Panthers in front of him rather than a team intent on winning the world championship. Luongo was at his best when the Finns had a five-on-three manpower advantage in the second and he stoned the opposition.
" We never stopped, especially when we were down 2-0 early," said Luongo.
"Our guys really battled and they had the lead twice more but we came right back. There is a lot of character showing on this team right now."
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Brad Pascall Vice-President, Hockey Operations