INNSBRUCK, Austria – Marc Habscheid could see it in their eyes. He knew Team Canada had come to play.
“They were really in tune and they played a great game and they were very enthused and very focused,” said Habscheid after Canada beat Slovakia 5-4 to advance to the semifinals of the world hockey championship.
‘The resilience was good . . . the puck didn’t seem to want to go in (at times) and our guys didn’t blink. Even when they got ahead early in the third, they never blinked,” continued Habscheid.
The Canadians ratcheted up the intensity a couple of notches and turned in their best game of the tournament. Three times they trailed in the game and three times they rallied for the win.
And now they are playing for a world championship medal. The semifinals go Saturday in Vienna, with the bronze medal and gold medal game on the slate on Sunday. Gold is the color the two-time defending world champs are most interested in.
Simon Gagne, with two goals, Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Ryan Smyth also scored for Canada. The line of Thornton-Gagne-Rick Nash produced eight points. Nash had a six-game goal-scoring streak stopped but he had three assists.
Thornton scored the winner late in the third period on a slap shot that fooled goalie Jan Lasak, who made a stab at the puck but missed by a wide margin.
“I didn’t see it (go in). When it went in I was just as surprised as he was,” said Thornton. “When the red light went on, I said that was a lucky one.”
Marty Brodeur didn’t much a chance to settle in before the Slovaks took the lead 45 seconds into the game. But Brodeur is in some ways Canada’s security blanket and a penalty shot he stopped in the second period was a pivotal moment.
Ziggy Palffy took the penalty shot and he tried to deke the goalie but Brodeur made a spectacular glove save while sprawled on the ice.
“I knew he was going to try five-hole and if it wasn’t open he would try on my blocker side. I threw my arm back,” said Brodeur in describing his save. “I didn’t know (where the puck was). I knew it touched me but I was scared that it just kind of just touched me and crawled over my glove. I knew it hit my middle of my blocker and I heard him tap his stick and that is a good sound when the guy gets pissed of.”
Habscheid recalled how assistant coach Tom Renney turned to him on the bench before Ziggy took the shot.
“Tom said, relax we have Marty and this isn’t such a bad thing,” said Habscheid.
The Canadians are off to Austria’s capital city of Vienna to begin preparations for the semifinals.
Now that they’ve turned in a solid effort, they like the way things are going.
“We have it in that dressing room. Guys care,” said Smyth. “Guys want to win and guys are focused on winning the gold and it is so good that we have a good confident feeling.”
Scott Walker says the vital signs are good.
But Walker said there was calm on the bench, and that calm prevailed the three times Canada trailed in the game.
“Guys had that burn in their eyes,” said Walker about the intensity. “I was a little more nervous on the bench against the Ukraine. We just didn’t seem to have that fire like we did tonight. When we did get down a goal tonight, you had that sense that our guys will do it and we have the guys here (who can takes what it takes to win) and it was a totally different feel.
“It is hard to explain but that is how we felt on the bench. There was no letdown on the bench and in the other games, it felt that we were not into it as much and you are always looking at someone else to do it,” continued Walker. “Tonight every line was looking at each other and saying we will go out there and be better and be better and we wore them down. There was a sense on the bench and you could see it in every guy that was coming off the bench. There was no panic.”
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Brad Pascall Vice-President, Hockey Operations