HELSINKI -- Canada's best performances at this year's world hockey championships have been in wins over Sweden and Russia. But the team's best showing could come today in the semifinal against the Czech Republic (TSN, 9:50 a.m.).
The Canadian team seems to play better when threatened by a superior opponent than when it is expected to win big over a less talented team, as demonstrated by Wednesday's difficult quarter-final win over Germany in overtime and a 2-2 tie with Denmark last week.
While Canada and the Czechs have identical 6-0-1 records there's a feeling among European observers the Canadians are slight underdogs. Recent history plays a part since the Czechs captured gold at the 1999, 2000 and 2001 world championships while Canada hasn't won a medal of any colour since 1997.
Perhaps even more significant is the way players smoothly come in and out of the Czech lineup. Because they draw from a smaller pool of players and because they've played largely the same counter-attack system for the past five years, the Czechs don't seem to need to build chemistry throughout the tournament like other countries do.
"They know their game over here," Canadian captain Ryan Smyth said of the Czechs.
Canada, unlike the Czechs, faces the daunting task of not only learning the nuances of an international game its players didn't grow up playing, but also getting players to quickly learn about each other's tendencies and built trust with one another.