HELSINKI -- First they lost their goalie, then their composure, then their lead.
But just when it looked as bleak as ever, Canada demonstrated the kind of heart and determination at the world hockey championship yesterday that has long been associated with Canadian hockey.
"Here we are in the gold-medal game," centre Kris Draper said after yesterday's 8-4 semifinal win over the Czechs. "It's amazing to see how this team has responded, how we find ways to win hockey games. Our resolve has been huge."
Head coach Andy Murray deserves a lot of the credit, calling a time-out after Milan Hejduk tied it 3-3 early in the third period. It worked in spades as Kyle Calder of the Chicago Blackhawks scored on the next shift and Canada was on its way to its first gold-medal final since winning it here in 1997.
"Andy made a huge decision to call the time-out, that was big for our hockey club," said Calder. "He just said to us, 'You guys worked way too hard . . . It's upon yourself now to go out and get it.' "
Murray, who coached Canada's gold-medal-winning team in '97, recognized his team was a little rattled. "We just talked about the fact we're representing our country over here and the character we have as Canadians is that we stand up in moments like that and answer the call. We were being challenged. We needed to pick our game up and be more assertive. We had to realize that we've had a great tournament and needed to go out and play like we were capable of."
From then on, Canada owned the third period. Rising star Dany Heatley of the Atlanta Thrashers scored his second and third goals to complete the hat trick while Shawn Horcoff of the Edmonton Oilers and Mathieu Dandenault of the Detroit Red Wings also scored as Canada outshot the stunned Czechs 14-7 in the period and 31-29 overall.
Canada won despite losing veteran netminder Sean Burke just over eight minutes into the second period. The Phoenix Coyotes goalie -- one of the major reasons Canada (7-0-1) hasn't lost in the tournament -- went to the dressing room and never returned. A lower body injury is the party line from Team Canada. The team is hopeful he'll be back in net for tomorrow's final (TSN, 10 a.m. EDT) against Sweden, who beat Slovakia 4-1 in yesterday's other semifinal. He'll be re-evaluated today.
Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers came in cold to replace Burke and gave up four goals but faced the Czechs during their most impressive stretch. Martin Biron of the Buffalo Sabres quickly got dressed and was on the bench to start the third period."(Luongo) played great. He made the saves when we needed them," said Heatley. "Our goaltending is rock solid. Any of those three guys would be great for us and we have faith in any of them."
Shane Doan of the Coyotes and Jay Bouwmeester of the Panthers also scored as Canada snapped a five-game losing streak against the Czechs that dated back to the 1999 world tournament in Norway.
"We want to get back on top," said Heatley. "We did in the Olympics and we want to do it here. We want to show everyone that we're the best hockey country in the world, and we have to prove it Sunday."
Not many observerspicked Canada to make the final so there were many satisfied faces when Canadian players addressed the European media.
"A lot of the European teams and European writers didn't expect us to do well. But as Canadians, never underestimate us," said Anson Carter.