Canada ready to meet top-ranked Russians in hockey quarters

 

 
 
 
 
Alexander Ovechklin of Russia shoots on goal during the IIHF World Championship qualification round match between Russia and Finland at Lanxess Arena on May 18, 2010 in Cologne, Germany.
 
 

Alexander Ovechklin of Russia shoots on goal during the IIHF World Championship qualification round match between Russia and Finland at Lanxess Arena on May 18, 2010 in Cologne, Germany.

Photograph by: Lars Baron, Getty

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COLOGNE, Germany — Team Canada’s young players, their confidence shaken by three losses at the IIHF world hockey championship, are being advised to ignore the superstar names on the back of Russian jerseys as they fight for survival and respect in the quarter-finals Thursday.

With a loss against Russia, the overwhelming tournament favourite and a team desperate to avenge its humiliating loss to Canada in the quarters at the Vancouver Olympics, Canada’s performance would go down as the worst since at least 1992.

“I think the big thing is to take the name tags off the back of the sweaters,” general manager Mark Messier told reporters after the team practised Wednesday.

Messier has faced dynamic Russian teams as a participant in the old Canada Cup tournaments, and has observed how teams prepared to face his Edmonton Oilers when that team was a league powerhouse.

“I think any time when you’re going into competition having too much respect for the opposition is not a good idea,” he said.

That’s going to be a challenge because on paper the matchup seems lopsided.

Russia, under enormous political and public pressure to restore national pride after the 2014 Olympic host country was trounced 7-3 by Canada in February, is stacked with stars.

Alexander Ovechkin leads the way but it hardly stops there. Among the players Team Canada will have to contain are forwards Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov, Ilya Kovalchuk and defenceman Sergei Gonchar.

“We know we’re going to have to be at our best to beat them. The lineup they have is impressive,” said Canadian captain Ray Whitney, a crafty playmaker who has been one of few Canadian players consistently creating offensive opportunities.

He said he doesn’t expect emotional speeches before the game for a team which has undergone considerable soul-searching after the three losses.

“We’ve already had our talks,” Whitney said.

“We’re not going to have any more rah-rahs. We know where we are and we understand what we need to do.”

Coach Craig MacTavish, who was experimenting in practice with new line combinations Wednesday, acknowledged the team is in a tough situation.

The offence is led by talented young players like 51-goal-scorer Steven Stamkos, Whitney, Corey Perry and John Tavares.

But in key moments those players have often been stymied by the European teams’s disciplined defensive systems.

Tavares was shaking his head in frustration in the 3-2 loss against Jaromir Jagr’s Czech Republic Tuesday in the qualification round after missing three point-blank scoring opportunities during the second period.

“Coming off a couple of losses our confidence could be battered a little bit,” MacTavish said.

“But we’re a pretty resilient young group, and the guys are pretty upbeat and pretty optimistic, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity (Thursday).”

Talk continues about how Team Canada has put itself in the predicament of facing the Russians, who have a perfect 6-0 record in the tournament, in the quarter-finals.

There has been speculation that the players didn’t sufficiently respect their European opponents simply because the three teams that beat them (Switzerland, Sweden and the Czech Republic) had only a small number of NHL players.

“This tournament is very competitive and I think our players are aware of it now,” Messier said.

“The game against the Czechs was a real stark reminder for us that in order to win we have to bring our emotional level up . . . and then execute on top of it.”

The Canada-Russia clash will be the highest profile international game Thursday, though Germans are buzzing over their team making it to the quarter-finals to face Switzerland.

Sweden, which had the second-best record at the tournament with five wins and a loss, plays Denmark while the Czechs meet Finland.

 
 
 
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Alexander Ovechklin of Russia shoots on goal during the IIHF World Championship qualification round match between Russia and Finland at Lanxess Arena on May 18, 2010 in Cologne, Germany.
 

Alexander Ovechklin of Russia shoots on goal during the IIHF World Championship qualification round match between Russia and Finland at Lanxess Arena on May 18, 2010 in Cologne, Germany.

Photograph by: Lars Baron, Getty

 
Alexander Ovechklin of Russia shoots on goal during the IIHF World Championship qualification round match between Russia and Finland at Lanxess Arena on May 18, 2010 in Cologne, Germany.
Coach Craig MacTavish acknowledged his team is in a tough situation.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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