Canada-Norway Preview

Expectations are high for Canada to win gold medal in men’s

hockey on its home soil. Now, it’s up to what appears to be the

deepest roster ever to deliver.

Canada’s bid for gold in a sport its citizens point to with

national pride begins Tuesday night against Norway, which returns

to the Olympic stage for the first time in 16 years.

On paper, Canada should have enough to win the country’s seventh

gold in the sport and first since 2002. But how intense are

expectations in a country where the sport is viewed as an

obsession?

Executive director Steve Yzerman – a Hall of Famer after 22

seasons with Detroit – makes it clear what he wants to see after a

seventh-place finish in Turin four years ago.

“You do whatever you can. If that means diving in front of a

shot to block it, you do that. If that means playing in a certain

position you do that,” he said. “If that means that you play more

minutes than you’re accustomed to, you do that. In some cases that

means less minutes, you do that as well. … This event is so big

and the guys want to do so well, they’ll do whatever they have

to.”

Only once has Canada fielded a Olympic team inside its borders.

At the Calgary Games in 1988, they finished fourth behind Sweden,

Finland and the gold-medal winning club from the USSR. There was

little in the way of star power as NHL participation in the

Olympics didn’t begin until 1998.

Lack of name recognition is not an issue this time because

Canada’s roster is simply stacked.

The 13 forwards selected have racked up a total of 311 goals and

421 assists this season. Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, a

first-time Olympian at 22, is tied for the NHL lead with a 42

goals, also a career high. He’s joined by a trio of Sharks in

Patrick Marleau (career high-tying 38 goals), Dany Heatley (32

goals) and Joe Thornton (NHL-best 59 assists).

Crosby took a shot off his foot early in the second period

Sunday in the Penguins’ final game before the break, but still

played more than 23 minutes and insisted that wouldn’t keep him out

of the Olympics.

“The best way for me to lead is through my game,” said Crosby,

one of Canada’s alternate captains.

The status of high-scoring Ryan Getzlaf was another story right

up until rosters were set Monday.

After missing nearly a week with a severely sprained ankle,

Getzlaf came back with a season-high four points Sunday in a Ducks

win. Yzerman went as far to have Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter in

Vancouver as a replacement if Getzlaf couldn’t go.

That became a moot point, but not immediately.

“It wasn’t a no-brainer,” Yzerman said. “Obviously (Getzlaf)

looked good and was productive, but we did have some concerns, so

his trainers with the Ducks met with him and our doctors saw him

last night and again this morning. He didn’t have swelling, he

didn’t have any pain and actually felt better today.”

As powerful as Team Canada appears on offense, its goaltending

may be better.

Coach Mike Babcock said Monday that Roberto Luongo (31-17-2,

2.35 goals-against average, 4 shutouts) of the hometown Canucks

will get the call in the opener. In his last 11 starts at GM Place,

the Vancouver captain is 9-1-1 with a 1.81 GAA.

Martin Brodeur – perhaps the greatest netminder Canada has ever

produced – is back for his fourth Olympics, and will face

Switzerland on Thursday. Spending his entire 17-year career with

New Jersey, the 36-year-old Brodeur (34-20-3, 2.32 GAA, 7 shutouts)

is the NHL’s all-time leader with 591 wins and 108 shutouts.

Third-stringer Marc-Andre Fleury (29-16-4, 2.65 GAA, 4

shutouts), a Stanley Cup winner with Crosby in Pittsburgh last

season, could be hard-pressed to see any playing time.

The defense is anchored by Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger (60 GP,

8 goals, 34 assists, plus-22), a Hart and Norris Trophy winner in

2000, and Team Canada captain Scott Niedermayer, a four-time Cup

winner with the Devils and Ducks.

All that doesn’t bode well for Norway, which hasn’t sent a

hockey team to the Olympics since hosting the 1994 games in

Lillehammer. The Norwegians went 0-5-0 and finished 11th in the

12-team field.

No Norwegian team has finished higher than eighth in Olympic

play, and there is little to suggest that will change in

Vancouver.

“We’re just going to go out and try to play our best game,

hopefully give them a little bit of fight,” said forward Tore

Vikingstad. “No one expects anything from us against Canada.”

Roy Johansen’s club features one player from the NHL –

defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefson, a veteran of 163 games over five

seasons and currently in the Red Wings system. Tommy Jakobsen, a

39-year-old defenseman who carried Norway’s flag at the opening

ceremonies Friday, is the only player to return from the 1994

squad.