Thu, May 01, 2008 - Page 20 News List

Canada looks to break host jinx in World Hockey

AFP , HALIFAX, CANADA

Defending champion Canada head into the World Hockey Championships confident they can shake the host jinx and capture their 25th title.

Mindful of the misfortunes of previous tournament hosts, Canada are seeking to become the first team to win gold on home soil since 1986, when the former Soviet Union defeated Sweden in the final in Moscow.

Sweden came close in 1995 when the tournament was held in Stockholm, but lost to Finland and had to settle for silver.

“It has been a long time since the home team won gold,” said Bob Nicholson, president of Hockey Canada. “We have come back to defend our gold. That is what we are here for.”

Canada are favorites along with Sweden, Russia, Finland and the Czech Republic. The Canadians arrived Tuesday to begin preparations for their tournament opener Friday against Slovenia. Fresh off a 4-1 exhibition loss to Russia on Monday in Quebec City, the Canadians practiced for the first time on Tuesday at the Halifax Metro Centre arena.

Canadian coach Ken Hitchcock said the Russians played with greater determination Monday and that should help get his team going.

“Their tenacity was a lot better than ours,” Hitchcock said. “Now we know how we have to play to win.

“Anybody who was just dipping their toes into the water yesterday got a wake-up call,” he said.

Canada won 12 of the first 13 Worlds but they no longer dominate like they used to, winning just three of the past 10 titles.

In their most disappointing international performance in recent years, Canada was eliminated in the quarter-finals at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.

Hitchcock said general manager Steve Yzerman and the coaching staff have implemented a couple of significant changes over the past few years in order to adapt better to international showcases.

One was getting younger stars like Rick Nash, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley more international experience. The other was finalizing the roster as early as possible to avoid the distractions that come with bringing players after the tournament has started.

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