Thu, May 08, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Make-or-break time for Canada

HEAT ON THE ICE Eight teams are left in the World Hockey Championship, and there is no room for error in the knockout phase, putting pressure on the players

AP , HELSINKI, FINLAND

Switzerland's Martin Pluss, center, chased by Mats Sundin of Sweden, scores his second goal against Swedish goal keeper Mikael Tellqvist during the first period of the second round Group F match of the Ice Hockey World Championship on Tuesday in Turku.

PHOTO: AFP

After 42 games, the World Hockey Championships finally start for real.

Now it's time for the knockout phase, and each loser in the quarterfinals, which started yesterday, heads only one way -- home.

Canada, the Czech Republic and Slovakia all went undefeated through the preliminary and qualification rounds, but a good early record doesn't guarantee success from now on.

Sean Burke, the Phoenix Coyotes goalie who led Canada to its last world title six years ago in Helsinki, knows all about that.

"With this format it's not always the best team of the tournament that wins," said Burke, who's playing his fifth worlds for Canada. "You can go undefeated and then in the knockout round lose just once and you're out.

"I think we're the best team so far but one loss and we're gone. In 1997, we weren't necessarily the best team but we won the gold. If you don't have your best game one of these nights, then it's over."

Canada, which lost in the quarterfinals the last two years with rosters lacking true NHL star power, appears to have a much better chance this time.

At least one paper. The Canadians, who have two players from last year's Olympic champion team, Eric Brewer and Ryan Smyth of the Edmonton Oilers, face Germany in the first quarterfinal game in the western coastal town Turku.

Kris Draper of the Detroit Red Wings knows what's at stake.

"One loss and that's it," the Canadian said. "We can say we are undefeated so far but the bottom line now is we have to win our next game.

An hour later in Helsinki, defending champion Slovakia looks like an even stronger favorite against Switzerland.

"It'll be like Switzerland playing Brazil in soccer," Swiss defenseman Olivier Keller said. "They are world champions and have an incredible team with super strong attackers like Zigmund Palffy and Richard Zednik.

"But we have nothing to lose and we're under no pressure. Maybe we can trouble them and create the surprise."

Palffy, the Los Angeles Kings' top scorer this season, tops the scoring race going into the quarterfinals with seven goals and seven assists in seven games.

Jozef Stumpel of the Boston Bruins, the center on Slovakia's top line with Palffy and Zednik as wingers, is second in the scoring race with three goals and 10 assists.

The Czechs, who also have a star-studded team with NHLers, are also favored in the other quarterfinal in Turku against a Russian team that has been a big disappointment so far and squeezed into the last eight.

Finally, the last quarterfinal in Helsinki might just get one of the top ratings all-time on Finnish national television: Finland vs. Sweden.

It's one of the biggest continuing rivalries in international hockey, perhaps only matched by the old Canada-Soviet games.

Finland gets its dream game against the "Tre Kronor" -- but too early. Most Finns would have preferred to meet their traditional archrivals in a final.

"It's always fun playing Finland," Boston Bruins' forward P.J. Axelsson said smiling. "It's always a tough match. It's like Canada playing the United States.

"Of course meeting them in the final would have been better ..."

Henrik Zetterberg, who had an outstanding season with Detroit and is a top NHL Rookie of the Year candidate, likes playing the Finns.

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