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Let the real games begin: Canada summons Game 7 mentality for quarter-final showdown with Finland


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GANGNEUNG — The spring of 2011 is one that Team Canada captain Chris Kelly will never forget, a marathon that put the veteran forward through the wringer of the ultimate hockey test.

Hoisting the Stanley Cup at the end of it was the prize for Kelly then, but it took three Game 7 wins with his Boston Bruins to reach that pinnacle of his sport.

To get the ultimate prize at the Olympics, Kelly and his Canadian teammates will have to win the equivalent of three more Game 7s, starting with a date against Finland on Wednesday (7:10 a.m. ET/4:10 a.m. PT) in the quarter-finals.

In a tournament that so far has been about jockeying for position, it’s time to get serious.

“I like to describe it as you feel sick,” Kelly said when asked what it’s like to be in a one-game elimination situation. “Excitement. Nervousness. It’s all good energy. When you’re playing hockey as a game on the street, you’re dreaming about the Olympics or you’re dreaming about the Stanley Cup. To have the opportunity to experience both, I could pinch myself right now.”

So far, the Canadian team has matter-of-factly taken care of business, getting through the elimination round without a loss in regulation time. They were particularly strong in a win against Switzerland, were game in a shootout loss to the Czech Republic and turned it on in the third period to breeze by the host nation, South Korea.

Canadian defenceman Chris Lee tracks the puck against South Korea on Feb. 18.

Things get considerably more difficult now, however, starting with the Finns, who beat South Korea 5-2 in the first stage of the knockout round on Tuesday. If the Canadians get through and the bracket holds to form, they’d face Sweden in the semifinals and the favoured Russians in the gold medal game.

It’s not an ideal draw, one created by that narrow shootout defeat. But the Canadians feel they can contend for the brightest of medals.

“There’s always going to be the thought that your quarter-final could be against a lesser opponent, but there’s no controlling that,” Team Canada general manager Sean Burke told Postmedia. “You lose a game in a shootout and that’s the way the draw falls.

“Ultimately, to win a tournament like this you’re going to have to beat good teams at the right time. The Finns are a very, very good hockey team. I see this game as being every bit as intense as the next game or the final would be.

“But I don’t think the (Finns) are sitting around thinking it’s great that they’ve drawn Canada in the quarter-final, either.”

On the plus side, Canada has surrendered just three goals in three games and is getting production from all four lines. For the most part, the players have worked hard enough to make up for the lack of talent and have put themselves in the mix of a tournament that remains wide open.

“It’s like what we expected. It’s been a very competitive tournament,” Burke said.

“I like our character. I like our leadership. I like that we’re saying the right things and that the guys believe it.

“But it’s talk. At the end of it all you’ve got to do it on the ice, and I think we can all say we’re at that phase where it’s all in the results at this point.”

Canadian players celebrate a Gilbert Brule goal against South Korea on Feb. 18.

The Finns would certainly provide a stout test for Canada, with a young, fast squad reflective of what’s going on with the sport in that Nordic country. Of note is first-round NHL draft pick Eeli Tolvanen, an offensive wizard who had a pair of goals in a win against Norway and has been on the Finns’ top line and power play.

While Burke and coach Willie Desjardins profess to be pleased with the effort and the results so far, both acknowledge that the ability to go deep in the medal round will require something more.

So how do you summon that Game 7 mentality the Canadian captain talks about?

“I think it’s going to be automatic,” said longtime NHL veteran Derek Roy, arguably Canada’s best player here so far. “It’s pretty easy to manufacture when you’re putting on the jersey and getting ready for the game. Obviously you’re thinking about what you have to do on the ice and that everyone back home is cheering you one.

“It’s going to be a lot of emotion and excitement.”

It remains to be seen just where Canada fits with the contenders, but with the Russians the only team having any sort of favoured status, Burke believes they are right there with the Finns, Swedes and Czechs.

“I like what I’ve seen so far, but you’re always looking for more,” Burke said.

“We’re at the point you want to get to, the games that matter. We all know you’re not going to get away with being lucky. You have to work to get your wins, but you do need some things to fall into place for you.”

Email: rlongley@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Quarter-final matchups set at Olympics

The men’s hockey quarter-finals are set after the four qualification games were played Tuesday.

The Canada-Finland game has been slotted into one of the late positions, making the game time 7:10 a.m. ET Wednesday. Sweden will face Germany in the other late slot.

The Olympic Athletes from Russia will meet Norway at 2:40 a.m. ET Wednesday and the Czech Republic will face the United States at 10:10 p.m. on Tuesday night.

The U.S. advanced with a 5-1 win over Slovakia, which had started the tournament with an upset win over Russia but was not able to sustain that level of play. Ryan Donato and James Wisniewski broke a scoreless tie with goals in the first 2:20 of the second period. Donato added another goal late; Mark Arcobello and Garrett Roe also scored. Ryan Zapolska made 22 saves in the American net.

Finland was pushed by South Korea to a 5-2 win. Brock Radunske and JinHui Ahn scored two quick goals for the Koreans in the middle of the second period to make it 3-2, but couldn’t get any closer in the third period.

Norway defeated Slovenia 2-1 in their game with Alexander Bonsaksen scoring the winner at 3:06 of overtime.

Germany and Switzerland also needed overtime, with Yannic Seidenberg scoring just 26 seconds into the extra period to propel the Germans to their 2-1 win.