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Canadian men gird for Russia

Our men’s hockey team crushes Germans in qualifier; must now contend with the Ovie & Geno show


 

crosby and luongoShea Weber once had his shot clocked at a whopping 103.4 miles per hour. But never—not in the NHL, not in junior, not even in his minor hockey arena up in B.C.’s Shuswap country—has he fired one clean through the net.

There really is a first for everything.

At 3:10 of the second period during tonight’s game between Canada and Germany, Weber launched one of his patented howitzers from the right point, getting the puck on net through a forest of legs and sticks. If you didn’t have your eye squarely on the netting above German goaltender Thomas Greiss’s right shoulder, you would have missed the tell-tale ripple of twine, and one of the strangest occurrences in Olympic hockey history.

But Weber saw it, and the 24-year-old defenceman knew that unless he’d just witnessed a breach in the laws of physics, the trajectory of his shot dictated that he’d scored.

“Yeah, uh, the net doesn’t usually move on its own like that,” he grinned after the game. “It didn’t look like it went over the net or beside the net. It was kind of a funky play. I’ve never witnessed  anything like it.”

A video replay confirmed what Weber suspected, and the goal counted as Canada’s second in a convincing 8-2 victory over the Germans in a playoff qualifier.

The emphatic nature of the win—not to mention the awe induced by Weber’s shot—were good signs given the challenges ahead of this team. Canada now faces the formidably talented Russians in a quarterfinal match tomorrow night, and will take any psychological edge it can get. At least some will come from the crowd which with four minutes left indulged in a deafening chant of “We want Russia! We want Russia!”

The whole atmosphere was a welcome change for the Canadians, who entered the tournament as odds-on favourites to win gold yet have appeared to struggle under the weight of expectation attached to playing an Olympic tournament on home soil.

A 5-3 loss to the Americans on Sunday exposed the team’s apparent fragility, as the players poured some 45 shots on U.S. goalie Ryan Miller yet coughed up the game through a series of costly errors in their own end.

Tonight, coach Mike Babcock’s chemistry experiments worked, as a line made up of Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla and Eric Staal combined for six points. Iginla scored twice, while Crosby, Rick Nash, Mike Richards, Joe Thornton and Scott Niedermayer scored the others—the latter on a breakaway after emerging from the penalty box.

Nash also drew a penalty shot, which Babcock handed to Crosby on the basis of IIHF rules allowing a team to pick any shooter it wants. The Pittsburgh Penguins star couldn’t convert on an attempted deke.

Most heartening of all for Canada was the play of goaltender Roberto Luongo, a Vancouver Canuck who got the nod over presumed No. 1 Martin Brodeur, and played a strong game before his hometown NHL crowd.

“I felt good throughout the whole game,” said Luongo, who turned aside 21 of 23 shots, including several bouncing pucks and deflections. “I’ve played a lot of games at the international level and this one ranks up there with the big ones. Hopefully it’s not the biggest one this week.”

Babcock confirmed after the game that Luongo will get the start in Wednesday’s game against Russia, even though the 30-year-old from Montreal is sometimes knocked for failing to come through in important games.

“I think his bank account shows that he’s a pretty good goalie,” said Babcock, who as coach of the Detroit Red Wings has seen a lot of Luongo. “I know every time we play him he puts up this wall, and I’m excited he’s playing for us tomorrow. We’re going to give up some opportunities, that’s just reality. [The Russians] are that good.

“But he’s a big man and he doesn’t let it go under him or through him, and if they put it around him, we’ll line up for the face-off and get on with it.”

Luongo was equally respectful of the Russians, noting the dangers posed by their top line of Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin. “They’re shooters, so we can’t give them a lot of time and space,” he said. “I know when those guys get the puck, I’ll be getting ready.”


 

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