Canada using doubts as motivation
SOCHI, Russia -- For all the hand-wringing going on back home in the Great White North, you'd have no idea watching Team Canada at practice Thursday.
It's about as loose and confident a group as you could imagine on the eve of a delicious semifinal matchup with rival Team USA. Lots of smiles and laughter and back-slapping between drills.
Nervous? Tight? Either these guys are the greatest actors in the world, or the joke's on the fans for worrying about Team Canada's lackluster finish around the net.
Enter Drew Doughty, Mr. Olympics. The surf dude from L.A. might as well have just come out and said, "Chill out, people."The Kings star blueliner oozed assuredness Thursday, as if perplexed by why the folks back home are all tied up in knots.
How does he know all of Canada is freaking out right now?
"Just from reading my Twitter, that's about it," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "We're confident here. We don't care what other people say. We're winning games; that's all that matters. It doesn't matter how we win them. We obviously want to put more pucks in the net, and we're looking forward to doing that tomorrow.''
Oh wait, Canada has four wins in four games here?
"I hear ya, right?" chuckled winger Jeff Carter, when it was pointed out Canada hasn't lost a game yet despite the calamitous state of hearts and minds of Canadian hockey fans.
"I know, I don't know what's wrong," echoed Doughty. "I think a lot of people are counting us out, too, which we're really going to thrive under that. If anyone wants to count us out, we're going to use that as motivation. We're hungry.''
Hungry to beat Team USA again, that is.
With wins in both the 2010 and 2002 gold-medal games, Canada is looking to make it 3-0 in elimination games versus Team USA since the NHL Olympics began in 1998.
"I think both teams are really evenly matched," said Doughty. "I don't know who I would give the upper hand to at this point. But I'm obviously more confident in my team than theirs. I'm just really looking forward to it. It's going to be a huge game.''
How badly does Doughty want this?"Big time," he said. "You want those bragging rights. For the rest of the season. For the rest of your life, really. I'm really close with both those guys, Quickie and Brownie. It's going to be fun tomorrow. I want to beat them so badly. We're big rivals, us and the U.S., especially after our last Olympics. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Doughty talked about running into Quick at the meal hall in the athletes' village Wednesday, both of them envisioning what could be a blast of a scenario.
"We were talking about hopefully it came down to a shootout and hopefully I shot," smiled Doughty.
All kidding aside, if anyone has a book on Quick, it's Doughty and Carter, who face him in practice every day in L.A.
"Well, obviously, he's one of the best goalies in the game," Carter said. "He's a guy that never quits on any pucks, so if you get a chance, you have to make sure it's in the net. Real quick, quick legs, takes away the bottom half of the net. We're going to have to be on our game to get a couple past him."
Added Doughty: "When he gets hot, when he makes big saves early, he seems to become unbeatable. That's why we need to get one early on him. The only way we're going to score on him is to get pucks up high and get screens in front and tips. He's going to make the easy saves every time. It's going to be a big challenge for us. But I think it's definitely something we're going to overcome."
There's that Doughty confidence again. I think he could bottle that, sell it and make a fortune.
Right now, some of his own teammates on Team Canada might be willing to purchase some.
Although Doughty and fellow star blueliner Shea Weber have combined for seven goals, Canada's forwards have chipped in only six -- a hat trick by Carter versus Austria accounting for half of that.
Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron and Patrick Marleau are still searching for their first goal. You're not winning a gold medal with all six of those talented forwards sporting a donut through the end of this tournament.
It's not from a lack of trying. Canada has outshot the opposition a whopping 168-74; its plus-94 shot differential easily tops in the tournament. (Team USA, by comparison, is plus-25.)
But the question: Is the team satisfied with creating all those chances or frustrated most of them aren't going in?
"Probably a little bit of both," Crosby said Thursday. "You can't really do much except focus on putting them in. I don't think I'm second-guessing anything. I'm playing and reacting and trusting it will go in and sometimes it feels like it is not going in very easy. But usually it just takes one and they all go in."I think we like the fact that we're getting a lot of chances in and around the net. We trust they're going to go in a little bit more if we keep getting those. I think we just try to stay the course and make sure that we focus on burying those.''
A win over Team USA on Friday night and the narrative completely changes for Team Canada. Nobody is going to care anymore about the offensive struggles or the perceived "easy'' path to the semifinals.
Back home in Canada, they'll be rejoicing yet another win over their rivals. And it will have proved that once again, just like in Salt Lake and Vancouver, Team Canada was saving its best hockey for the latter stages of the tournament.
Or the lack of scoring will come back to haunt the Canadians on Friday night in a loss to Team USA. And then will begin the second-guessing -- or is it inquisition?
With so much on the line, you wouldn't know it watching Canada's players yuk it up Thursday.
"We're having a blast," said Doughty. "It kind of sucks that in four days this is all over and we have to head back to North America. We're having a great time here not only on the ice but back at the village and stuff like that. This group of guys bonds really well. We have fun together. We're making the most of it.''
That's the plan, anyway.