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Wednesday February 10, 2010 9:23 pm

Team Canada going for gold

Steve YzermanThe Winter Olympics in Vancouver officially begin this Friday. The event’s most anticipated event, the men’s ice hockey tournament, starts on Feb. 16. Team Canada takes on Norway in their first game of a tournament that many Canadians not only hope, but expect will be a moment of national pride. Canada GM Steve Yzerman has assembled an all-star roster, but the most important of those might be his coaches. Leading Canada will be head coach Mike Babcock and assistant coaches Jacques Lemaire, Ken Hitchcock, and Lindy Ruff. These are the guys who will be held most accountable for Canada’s success, or possible lack thereof.

Babcock’s Detroit Red Wings have had one of their worst seasons in years this year. They’re currently in ninth place, to points out of a playoff spot. Having reached the Stanley Cup finals twice in the last two seasons, winning the Cup once, their current position is nothing more than a disappointment. Hitchcock’s former employers in Columbus are faring even worse, which prompted his firing last week. He’ll carry that knowledge with him, as will his players, into Vancouver.

Ruff has come into question. As coach of the Buffalo Sabres, Ruff has intimate knowledge of US goalie Ryan Miller, one of the NHL’s top goalies. Do Ruff’s responsibilities to Team Canada make it so he should share Miller’s weaknesses with the Canadian forwards, but that kind of exposure has ramifications beyond the Olympics, and knowing how to beat Miller will quickly spread around the league and the Sabres, the team that is paying Ruff, will suffer.

What does all of this amount to? Perhaps nothing – if Canada wins gold. If not, there will be a lot of speculation as to what went wrong, and the first finger will be pointed at the management. Canadians have been preparing for these games for years, and expect to win the gold medals on home ice. Hockey is Canada’s game and losing at it would be the greatest slap in the face possible. There’s a lot of pressure on Yzerman and his coaches, and all eyes will be on them for the next two weeks.

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