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If there’s a good time for Team Canada to lose in Olympic men’s hockey, it’s right now


In other words, it wasn’t panic time for Canada, largely because there was no time for panic

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BEIJING – Eric Staal knows firsthand if he were to panic every time he was on the losing end of an Olympic hockey game, there wouldn’t be a shiny gold medal on display at his home in Minnesota.

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Well, not every time, of course. But there is a point.

Here in the get-your-legs-under-you, learn-what-you-need-to-work-on early days of the tournament, results need to be placed in perspective.

And flushed, win or lose.

So while there may have been an external tendency to draw concern about a 4-2 defeat at the hands of a feisty Team USA on Saturday at the National Indoor Stadium, it barely moved the meter for the Canadian players involved.

Not that they were shrugging off what was clearly a lacklustre performance. There was definite frustration. But with another game to improve before elimination contests arrive and life gets real, there’s no use expending useless energy.

“Perfect,” Staal said when asked what the team had to do to prepare for a game less than 30 hours later against tournament lightweight China.

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In other words, it wasn’t panic time for Canada, largely because there was no time for panic. It’s all part of the planned process for a team that hadn’t played an actual game together until two days earlier.

Staal wasn’t just shrugging his shoulders as a cliched defence mechanism. He’s lived it.

The current Captain Canada was on the now-legendary team that lost to the U.S. in the early round of the 2010 tournament in Vancouver. While there was predictable angst across the country following a 5-3 preliminary round loss to the U.S. 12 years ago – especially under the glare of a home Games – it didn’t phase Staal and his teammates in the slightest.

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They continued to get better, fought their way to the gold-medal game setting the stage for one of the greatest moments in Canadian hockey history — Sidney Crosby’s golden goal in overtime of a rematch with the Americans.

No one wants to drop any game — because in a tournament this short, momentum is a wondrous thing. But if there was a time to let one get away, Saturday’s noon hour start Beijing time was near perfect.

Assuming that Canada cruises by China (the Americans for reference, waxed them 8-0) the loss to the U.S. won’t impact the team’s opportunity to advance.

Team Canada’s goalie Eddie Pasquale gets his helmet knocked off in a collision during game action with the USA at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
Team Canada’s goalie Eddie Pasquale gets his helmet knocked off in a collision during game action with the USA at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Photo by Gavin Young /Postmedia

And in a tournament with no clear standouts – and eight of the 12 teams advance to the quarter-final stage – even the machinations of the knockout round seedings may not carry much weight.

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What does matter, of course, is what Canada does to push forward from a game in which they had little finish and were disoriented in their own end just often enough to pay for it.

“Sometimes you ask your players to have short memories and that’s what we need to have,” said coach Claude Julien, who stressed the need to use all games – win or lose – as tool for preparation. “At the same time, you have to remember why we lost this game and make sure that it doesn’t happen in the next one.

“Overall, it’s an opportunity for us to learn what we need to get batter at. We can’t afford to have these ebbs and flows. Through adversity you become better.”

If there’s one area where there could be legitimate concern, it is in net. Goaltender Eddie Pasquale, who was solid in the 5-1 win over Germany in the opener, was alarmingly awful against the U.S.

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Canada’s Jason Demers and the USA’s Marc McLaughlin collide during men’s hockey action at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Saturday, February 12.
Canada’s Jason Demers and the USA’s Marc McLaughlin collide during men’s hockey action at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Saturday, February 12. Photo by Gavin Young /Postmedia

Pasquale allowed a pair of dodgy goals, the second one early in the third period to essentially thwart Canada’s comeback bid and restore a two-goal American lead. It’s doubtful he’ll get the call against China, in part because the team is playing on back-to-back nights.

Don’t confuse a lack of worry with recognition by the Canadians that there is an urgency to get better.

The Canadian players who stopped in the mixed zone at the National Indoor Stadium following the loss acknowledged that it was nowhere near a consistent enough effort to succeed.

Circling back to 2010, however, you can bet the lessons of such a loss will be emphasized. The level of talent may not be the same, but the circumstances are all too familiar.

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