INNSBRUCK, Austria – Ryan Smyth knows Canada has yet to play its best game at the world hockey championship.
But Smyth expects the Canadians to be a lot better when they play Slovakia in the medal round in the tournament when it begins on Thursday.
“Sporadically there has been improvement (since the tournament began) but as a whole we want to get better before the quarter-final game,” said Smyth after Canada beat Ukraine 2-1 in its final qualifying round game on Tuesday.
“It’s do or die and guys will put their jerseys on and go play for pride.”
The Canadians knew they could have turned in a better performance against Ukraine but they didn’t duck any questions about their performance and they were critical of the showing they put on.
“We are definitely going to have to improve our game,” said Rick Nash, whose ninth goal in six games midway through the third was the winner. “I feel we will step up once we get some good teams. To plays games like this, it is tough for us. In saying that, we have a big jump to make.”
“It sure wasn’t our finest, that’s for sure,” added Smyth. “We had some moments where we picked it up a little bit but we have to play with more intensity.”
In some ways, this is old hat for team Canada.
At the 2003 world tournament in Finland, Canada tied Denmark 2-2 in the qualifying round and then proceeded to win the tournament.
Fast forward the tape to last year in Prague and the Canadians opened the tournament with a 2-2 tie with Austria and they went on to defend their world crown.
“I thought we came out real flat (against Ukraine) and not highly energized. I guess it is not the first time,” said coach Marc Habscheid. “Now there is no margin for error and we go into an elimination game and I know our guys will be ready for that.”
The Ukraines made for a frustrating opponent. They played a safe game and clogged up their end of the rink. At times there were five opponents below the hash marks between the faceoff circles in front of goalie Konstantin Simchuk.
Simchuk played a great game. He played on seven teams in four North American pro leagues in three years and his experience showed.
Morrison opened the scoring at 6:43 of the opening period. Dany Heatley was shoved onto Simchuk and Morrison deposited the puck over a pileup for his fourth goal.
The Ukraine tied it at four minutes later when a weak shot from the point went off Robyn Regehr's shin and between Martin Brodeur's pads.
Brodeur was brilliant when the Canadians needed him.
He stopped a breakaway late in the first period and then in the second, he got his stick on the ice to prevent a wraparound attempt from turning into a goal. The puck darted off his stick to a Ukraine forward and his slap shot bounced off Sheldon Souray who was standing in the crease.
Nash was the offensive hero in the third.
“It was fairly lucky. The puck rolled a bit and I think that helped it go top corner but in those types of games I’ll take them anyway I can,’’ he said.
The victory left the Canadians with seven points at the end of qualification-round play, so they can finish no worse than second in their pool.
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Brad Pascall Vice-President, Hockey Operations