TORONTO – One game at a time; that’s the attitude Team Canada has at the World Cup of Hockey.
And in order to achieve its goals of winning the best-on-best tournament, the Canadians first have to get past the Czech Republic in Saturday’s semifinal, and they know it won’t be easy.
The closer you get to the gold medal game, the tougher the climb to the top becomes.
The Canadians will be ready. There is no doubt about that.
“We started on a game plan today (Friday) and tonight we will have team meeting and we’ll start focusing on the Czechs,” says Wayne Gretzky, Team Canada’s executive director. “We are a team that has a lot of respect for its opponents and we respect the Czechs tremendously and we will be ready to play. We’re very positive. Today at practice we were loose but very confident. We are diligent group of guys. We prepare hard.”
"We're doing a lot of good things and we're going to face a bigger test with the Czechs and we're going to need to be on top of our game if we want to be successful,” adds goalie Marty Brodeur.
“We can't get into shootouts with European teams, because they love to play that way. It's all about us, about how we play. We walked in here in August and everybody checked their egos at the door. We decided to do whatever it took to be successful and I think now, everybody is doing it.”
Canada is on a bit of a roll, having won its four games to date and without ever trailing in the game.
The Czechs, meanwhile, got off to a slow start. They were winless in their first two games and staved off elimination with a win over Germany. They advanced to the semifinal with a 6-1 victory over Sweden.
Heading into the tournament, the Czechs were pegged to be a strong contender for the World Cup title. They had Jaromir Jagr, who can dominate when he wants to; Patrik Elias, who was coming off a 38-goal season with New Jersey; Ottawa's Martin Havlat, who netted 31 goals last season; and Milan Hejduk, who netted 35 goals for Colorado.
They were strong on the blue line and goalie Tomas Vokoun is on of the better up and coming NHL goalies.
All the pieces were there for a good run but the team was rocked by the death of head coach Ivan Hlinka in a car crash three days before training camp opened.
Former NHLer Rosy Ruzicka replaced Hlinks and Jagr feels he deserves a lot of credit for getting the Czechs into the semifinals.
“It was tough for everybody and for him it was really tough. Somebody else picked the (roster) and he has to work with what he had,” says Jagr. “Maybe he had different ideas but nobody knows. It is not easy but he has done a great job.”
Canada has yet to allow a shorthanded goal in 14 penalty kills and is 3-for-17 on a power play for a decent 17.6 per cent success rate - third in the tournament behind Sweden (37.5 per cent), which has been eliminated, and Finland (26.3 per cent).
The Canadians can ill-afford to have a parade of players heading to the penalty box because the Czechs have plenty of firepower.
“We have great forwards," says Vokoun. "We really can put the puck in the net. When we want to play, we really have amazing players."