HALIFAX – There is no kind way to put this. Norway is badly outmatched in its quarter-finals game against Canada. However, it can look to two positives for a ray of hope. First, Norway knocked off Canada on May 1, 2000, by a 4-3 score. And, more importantly, just a few days ago the Norwegians held Canada in check and lost by the slimmest of margins, 2-1.
That being said, Canada’s lineup is dominant. In the big picture, two facts stand out. Canada has scored the most goals in the tournament (35) and has allowed the fewest (10). Coach Ken Hitchcock has used both Cam Ward and Pascal Leclaire in goal, and both have been if not outstanding then certainly excellent when they’ve had to be.
The Canadian offence is led by the number-one line of Rick Nash-Ryan Getzlaf-Dany Heatley. Heatley leads the tournament in both goals (9) and points (13), and is well on his way to becoming the first player to win two MVP awards at the World Championship (he won previously in 2004). All three players are among the top scorers in the tournament and they have combined for 13 goals and 32 scoring points in just six games.
Canada’s second line of Martin St. Louis-Derek Roy-Eric Staal has been playing better and better, but Staal had to leave the team to attend his grandfather’s funeral and will be replaced by Sam Gagner. Gagner has been one of the best rookies in the NHL this past season with Edmonton, and although a different player he will no doubt fit in well, having practiced every day of the tournament with his teammates.
On defence, Canada is led by the experienced Steve Staios, a member of Canada’s gold-medal teams of 2003 and 2004. Mike Green has had a career year in Washington and has created much offense in Halifax with his end-to-end rushes. Ed Jovanovski has gobs of international experience, as does Jay Bouwmeester. Newcomer Brent Burns is tied with Heatley as tournament leaders in plus-minus at +10. The defence has it all.
Norway, on the other hand, has been hot and cold, but of late it has been very cold. After fighting Finland in overtime before losing 3-2, the team held Canada in check in that 2-1 loss. Since then, however, it has lost 4-1 to Latvia and 9-1 to the United States. Indeed, the Norwegians qualified for the quarter-finals not because of their great play but because Latvia blew three one-goal leads against Germany and lost 5-3 in a game where a win or overtime result would have meant a quarter-finals date in place of Norway.
The Norwegians have scored only nine goals in six games, and their leading point getters are Anders Bastiansen, Mats Trygg, and Morten Ask, all with four points. Pal Grotnes has played most of the minutes in goal for Norway, but he has a GAA of 3.78 and also has been more cold than hot of late.
Norway’s best hope for victory lies in improving on its play of several days ago when it lost to Canada 2-1 thanks to a Rick Nash goal late in the third period. What did the team do so well in that game? First, it huddled in front of Grotnes. This meant frustrating Canadian shooters. Second, it capitalized on a Canadian mistake. Mads Hansen scored a short-handed goal in the second period to tie the game, 1-1, on a fine rush down ice, one of the few miscues by the Canadian defence in the game.
Canada outshot Norway 52-16 in the game, however, an obvious nod to Grotnes’s fine play that game. If he isn’t at his absolute best, it’s game over. And, if Norway allows another 52 shots, you can be sure the Canadians will score more than twice.
The bottom line is that this is Canada’s game to win or lose. In an elimination format in which the loser goes home, there is only the slimmest of chances Norway can pull it off. Yet, that’s why they play the games. You never know what might happen.