Sunday, February 15, 1998
Bring on Kazakhstan
Granted, a spot in the elimination round was assured, even if Canada had lost all three games.
But after a gritty 3-2 win yesterday over Sweden, Canada is in position to give itself an easy game in the medal-round opener.
All it takes is a tie or a win against Team USA tomorrow and the Canadians will finish first, meaning they will start the elimination round against the last-place team in the other pool.
The Canadians figure it this way: Russia and the Czech Republic probably will finish first and second in that division with Finland third and Kazakhstan fourth.
Russia has a powerful offence, the Czechs have the dangerous combination of goaltender Dominik Hasek and forward Jaromir Jagr. So, it's best to avoid those two teams for as long as possible.
By beating Sweden, Canada almost certainly did that. At worst, the Canadians will finish in a three-way tie with Sweden and the U.S. at 2-1.
But on goal differential, Canada is plus-6 at the moment, whereas the U.S. is plus-1. So barring a loss to the Americans by five or more goals, Canada will finish no worse than second. And that means it doesn't have to play the the other division's first- or second-place finishers in the elimination-round opener.
RICHTER NO. 1: The goalie for Team USA tonight against Canada will be Mike Richter.
In fact, barring unforeseen circumstances, Richter will be the goalie in all U.S. games in the tournament.
Before the Olympics got under way, coach Ron Wilson refused to name a No. 1 goalie, and after the loss to Sweden in the opening game, he said he hoped to give some playing time to John Vanbiesbrouck.
But after Saturday's 5-2 victory over Belarus, in which Richter had to be sharp, Wilson changed his mind.
"I think I'm pretty much committed to going with Mike Richter," he said. "He has played very well and he carried the load last year at the World Cup.
"He has the best numbers (in National Hockey League play) among our goaltenders and I think our team has a lot of faith in him. Obviously the coaching staff does.
"Although I have all the confidence in the world in John Vanbiesbrouck and Guy Hebert, I think you have to commit to a goaltender.
"I wasn't about to commit to Mike until we made sure he was playing well. And he is."
ICE NOT NICE: Even though the Big Hat Arena is brand new, the ice isn't as good as it is in some of the older NHL buildings.
In one 30-second span in Saturday's game against Sweden, Canada had three players with skates off while the trainers were putting new edges on the blades.
"We were just losing our edges," Joe Nieuwendyk said after the game. "The ice has a tendency to get soft. I think you really feel it in the second game of the day. It gets chippy out there. The trainers did a great job of getting those skates back and forth."