Monday, September 13, 2004 Updated: September 14, 7:27 PM ET
Brodeur to return for Team Canada
By Scott Burnside Special to ESPN.com
TORONTO -- A significant piece of the World Cup of Hockey championship puzzle -- to be specific, Martin Brodeur's ailing left wrist -- appears to have come into focus.
Martin Brodeur practiced Monday for the first time in four days.
Brodeur started in goal for Tuesday night's championship game against Finland.
Brodeur, who did not speak to the media before the game, said Monday that his condition has dramatically improved.
"Felt pretty good," Brodeur said after Monday's practice. "First time in five or six days I was able to use it. I was really happy about the way I felt this morning. Just don't know how it's going to react throughout the day.
"But if it feels the same way that it felt today, I think if I don't hurt it again tomorrow in the morning skate, I think I'll be fine."
Brodeur missed Canada's rollercoaster 4-3 overtime win over the Czech Republic on Saturday after taking a shot in the base of his left, catching hand late in Wednesday's quarterfinal win over Slovakia. Roberto Luongo filled in admirably, stopping 37 of 40 shots, including several huge saves in overtime.
Brodeur's return will set the stage for a showdown of the two best goaltenders in the tournament. Brodeur has been otherworldly, stopping 97 of 100 shots in posting a 4-0 record, while Finnish sensation Miikka Kiprusoff has been nearly perfect as well, going 4-0-1 and allowing just six goals on 122 shots.
That Tuesday's championship should be a low-scoring affair goes without saying.
Beyond the goaltending clash, the battle of diametrically opposed emotional mind-sets -- the patient, muck-and-grind style of the Finns versus the emotional, transition game favored by the Canadians -- will go a long way to determining the outcome.
"We have to ride what we do well, which is our emotion and our intensity and the fan support. We have to ride that to the fullest," Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky said Monday.
Against the Czechs, the Canadians were on their heels for the first time in the tournament. They committed turnovers, gave up golden scoring chances and odd-man rushes, and seemed tentative in both the offensive and defensive zones -- all sins they had not committed in rolling through the first four games of the tournament.
Afterward, Team Canada's coach Pat Quinn suggested the youthful element of the roster that has received praise thus far might have shown a few cracks in the veneer.
"Our young guys are fine. We're not overly concerned about it," Gretzky insisted Monday. "All they need to do is look at this as one of the greatest nights of their life. It's not pressure, it's a fact. You just go out there and really enjoy it."
But enjoying the big picture element of the last game before an expected lockout shuts down the National Hockey League, perhaps for an entire season, all while focusing on the little things in what promises to be a closely fought title game, is a tall order.
"For me, I don't think I'm going to look at it like that right now," said defenseman Scott Hannan, a late addition to the Canadian roster who has played well throughout the tournament. "I'm just going to prepare for a game. I like to break down a game as to what I'm going to do."
Jay Bouwmeester, another late addition who has also played an unexpected role along the youthful Canadian blue line, thinks perhaps the lapses against the Czechs that saw Canada blow 2-0 and 3-2 leads, aren't such a bad thing.
"Sometimes something like that's maybe a good thing because we really haven't had that much adversity. Nothing had really gone wrong," he said.
Quinn echoed those sentiments Monday.
"What I felt good about is that level of frustration really wasn't a real damaging thing for us," he said.
Down the hall, the Finns were continuing the process of evolving from happy-to-be-here interlopers to legitimate challengers.
"That's the main question," head coach Raimo Summanen said. "I'm pretty sure that we're hungry."
If the Canadians will try to ride the emotion of capturing an international title on home ice, the Finns will try to counter with a more controlled intensity. Forward Ville Nieminen, borrowing a descriptor from the Stanley Cup final, calls it "hospital hockey": patient, patient, patient.
"If we can play well, we have to play as a team," Summanen said. "And if you play as a team, then you're going to wear down some of those great players.
"They're so fast and they can score so fast and then we have to just make this plan that if somebody do some bad things about the puck, then there is a cover-up."
The fiery coach, likened by some to a Finnish Mike Keenan, said he has noticed a change in demeanor in the dressing room since the euphoria that followed the team's 2-1 victory over the United States in Friday's semifinal.
"We are very quiet, and the big game is coming," he said.
Quiet was one thing the Finns did not enjoy in their Toronto hotel room, however.
"I don't know if the Canadians start already the mental game, but the fire alarm went on twice last night in our hotel," Summanen said with a grin. "We have little bad sleep, two o'clock and six-thirty. And somebody said there was some Canadian stuff going on there. We hope that next night we get a good sleep."
Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.