TORONTO – When Canada plays Slovakia in the quarter-finals of the World Cup of Hockey on Wednesday night, they last thing they want to do is play run-and-gun.
“They have too much skill,” says head coach Pat Quinn.
“They have great speed and they have about four forwards that the minute, even if it is a 50-50 chance that the puck will change hands they are gone. And I hope they are going when we recover the puck off them.”
That’s what happened in the preliminary round when Joe Sakic stripped Zdeno Chara of the puck in the Slovak end just before the lanky defenceman was about to lead a rush up ice. Canada scored en route to a 5-1 win.
“But that is what bothers me, if we do not get that steal and we do not play a solid game in that area, there will be room to play and when they have room they are very good and we have to make sure we are not allowing them that room,” adds Quinn.
You can expect Quinn to go with the same line-up against the upset-minded Slovaks.
Simon Gagne, who was held out of Monday's practice because of a bruised foot, practised Tuesday with his regular linemates, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards, and will play.
Canada finished first in the opening round with a 3-0 record while Slovakia went 0-3 and was outscored 13-4.
Goalie Martin Brodeur has been brilliant. He has a 1.00 goals-against average and a .961 save percentage.
Quinn said the Canadians can ill afford to take the Slovaks for granted.
“I think the guys are experienced enough to know it is not about the Slovaks right now and it is about us and how we approach it. Yes it would be human nature to sit back a little bit and say there is a level of comfort in here. But rather than have that level of comfort, I would rather have a level of confidence that we will come and perform the way we want to perform; that we are going to play to our standards and not someone elses and our standards need to be pushed every day.
“I believe our guys are very good at that. We have good experience in that area and our young kids that is what we are asking of them; keep the standard way up there and don’t get sucked into a pretty game that we will exchange rushes with because that is not how we want to play.”
The Canadians are aware that this could be their last game. The medal round of the World Cup is single elimination and anything is possible. Quinn and about a dozen members of the ’04 World Cup team were in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Game and remember how Belarus sent a Swedish team with a 3-0 record packing in the cross-over game.
“You try not to think about the fear part of it,” says Quinn. “Think about what we need to do to advance. Our goal is to win and you do not put yourself in the right frame of mind to have the concentration necessary if you are thinking about the negatives around you, or even the adversities that can happen. What we need to be thinking is what do we have to be doing to beat the Slovaks and play to our own satisfaction?”
Thus far in the tournament, Canada has never trailed in a game.
“Everyone knows it's do or die," says forward Jarome Iginla. "We're going at it the same way, preparing the same way as we have throughout the tournament. The only difference is, the ante has been upped.
“We know what we have in this room. We have to concentrate on what we have to do, not what the Slovaks have to do."