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Calgary Herald art (As juniors and as men, Crosby and young Canadians pursue greatness)

February 26 2010 at 7:23 AM
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N. W. Bruin  (Login NW_Bruin_GM)

As juniors and as men, Crosby and young Canadians pursue greatness

By Iain MacIntrye, Canwest News Service

February 26, 2010 8:06 AM

Canadian teammates Roberto Luongo and Sidney Crosby knock helmets after Canada beat Russia in the quarter final game Wednesday. Crosby believes Canada's match against Slovakia will 'be a bigger test for us.'Photograph by: Scott Audette, Reuters

VANCOUVER - This is Sidney Crosby speaking: ''It's part of being Canadian. Everyone wants to play on this team, no matter if there is pressure. This is the team to play on and you want to win the gold medal. Anything else isn't acceptable.''

Actually, that was Sidney Crosby speaking in 2005, on the eve of helping Team Canada win its first world junior championship since 1997. Canada didn't lose another junior summit until last month.

Stacked with two years' worth of young stars due to the National Hockey League lockout, the 2005 Canadian under-20 team was untouchable. It went 6-0, outscoring opponents 41-7. It allowed two even-strength goals in the tournament.

Nearly everyone agreed then it was probably the greatest junior team ever assembled.

So no one should be surprised that this may be Canada's best Olympic team, too.

''At the time, I remember people saying after that tournament that you could see some of these guys playing for Team Canada one day, maybe in an Olympics,'' Crosby said Thursday, on the eve of Canada's 2010 Winter Games' semifinal against Slovakia. ''And sure enough, there's a bunch.''

Crosby is one of seven Canadians playing for Olympic medals only five years after their world junior domination on the North Dakota plains.

Crosby, then only 17, had six goals and nine points at the 2005 junior championship. Canada's scoring stars were Patrice Bergeron (13 points) and Ryan Getzlaf (12 points), who are Olympic teammates. Mike Richards was the Canadian captain in North Dakota and has become an important two-way player in Vancouver. Olympic-team winger Corey Perry was also there.

The 2005 defence featured Olympians Shea Weber and Brent Seabrook.

Of these seven players, only Richards has reached his 25th birthday, and that was just two weeks ago.

Greatness was forecast for a lot of players from that '05 team, which included Jeff Carter, Dion Phaneuf, Andrew Ladd, Clarke MacArthur and Braydon Coburn, among others. That they are on the cusp of achieving greatness only five years later, and in the most talented Olympic tournament in history, still seems remarkable.

''Everybody was so close,'' Richards said Thursday. ''We were together at under-17, under-18, and then two years at world junior. So we were together a long time. We were really close and that sort of carried over into here.

''Whenever you win a championship together, I think you have that special bond. And to do it in the fashion that we did - we went through a lot together - we definitely do have a lot in common.''

One of the things they share is a kind of fearlessness when it comes to playing for their country.

When they pull on Canadian jerseys, they aren't worried about beating the Russians or fretting over the Olympic meltdown four years ago in Turin. They're thinking about dominating and winning gold medals and running the table against the best teams in the world, like they did in 2005.

That is their Team Canada reference point.

As Crosby reiterated, nothing else is expected or acceptable.

In the gold-medal game five years ago, Canada hammered talented Russia 6-1. Russia's best player, a fellow named Alex Ovechkin who went first over-all in the National Hockey League draft six months before the tournament, was largely invisible and by the third period was out of the game due to injury.

So when Canada's Olympic team put the boots to Russia 7-3 in Wednesday's Olympic quarter-final, and Ovechkin disappeared after he was rocked by Weber on an early hit, it wasn't some kind of lightning strike or supernatural event for the North Dakota seven. It was same old, same old. Canada thumped Russia and Ovechkin wilted. What else is new?

''You have pressure playing for Canada, and playing in prior tournaments definitely helps,'' Seabrook said. ''Especially when you win, you get that confidence. Yeah, it's good to have that experience in international play.''

''Any familiarity you can get in a short-term event like this, and the fact that we won, that helps a lot,'' Crosby agreed. ''If you look at that group . . . all those things really help adjusting (in Vancouver) and progress as far as chemistry. I think that has definitely helped us.''

There is a generational cohesiveness and youthful, team dynamic to Team Canada that the last Olympic team was missing. Of course, a lot of things were absent in Turin.

There appears to be even more talent on this Canadian team than the gold- medal winners from Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, when Canada had several players near the end of their careers but was still able to run over in the final an American team past its best-by date.

Thirteen of Canada's 23 players here are 25 or younger. Most should be even better by the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, although NHL participation in Russia will be fiercely bargained in the next agreement between players and owners.

''Certainly, winning with a group of guys sticks with you forever,'' Weber said. ''You're going to remember it. Obviously, we had some of the best players (in 2005) because they've gone on to great NHL careers and they're going to be playing a long time.''

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

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Leader-Post article (Pats not about to give up)

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February 26 2010, 7:35 AM 

Pats not about to give up

By Greg Harder, The Leader-Post

February 26, 2010

The Regina Pats' last stand may be a futile exercise, but they insist surrender is not an option.

"We won't quit, I know that; we won't let them quit," head coach Curtis Hunt said of his team's playoff struggle. "It's still alive. Until they lock the door on us, we have a chance."

Despite overwhelming odds, the Pats maintain that opportunity is knocking as they attempt to erase a seven-point deficit in the Eastern Conference standings. Regina's last shred of optimism is based primarily on the fact that two of its remaining eight games are against the Swift Current Broncos, who reside in the eighth and final playoff position.

The Pats are slated to visit Swift Current tonight, the Saskatoon Blades on Saturday and the Broncos again on Tuesday.

"We're going to have to get those points," said Pats centre Jordan Weal. "The season is on the line and we're going to have to play like that for a full 60 minutes. We've been playing well lately. If we just clean up a few things, I think we can hit a little hot streak. We have the capability in the dressing room. We have the guys to do it. We're this close. We just have to get over that little hump and we'll be there."

Regina's best chance may have evaporated earlier this week with back-to-back 4-3 losses at the hands of the Moose Jaw Warriors and Vancouver Giants. Had the Pats' won those games, they'd be looking at a whole new ball game with just a three-point deficit heading into the weekend.

Instead, they're left to wonder what might have been.

"There's certainly some frustration," Hunt said. "We get caught in the middle between being aggressive consistently ... and being passive and trying to prevent and you get nothing accomplished when that happens. You see signs throughout the game where we are very aggressive and we turn pucks over and we get chances. That's tough when you get chances and you continually struggle to hit the back of the net."

In the absence of tangible rewards, it has become increasingly difficult to accentuate the positive.

"The biggest thing is how you feel about yourself," continued Hunt. "We have to find a way to feel good about ourselves and find a way to get on that bus (today) and have some real good positive self-talk with a belief that we can get the job done, because we can."

Unfortunately for the Pats, not many observers share their optimism. The team has been trying to block out the negativity, but that task became a lot more difficult after dropping a pair of winnable games against Moose Jaw and Vancouver.

"It just kills you when stuff like that happens," admitted Weal. "It's hard on the confidence and the morale but we just have to keep going. We're going to have to take a look in the mirror and see what we need to do to get better. We still have a chance if we pull some wins together. We just have to take it one game at a time and see how it goes."

There's a case to be made based upon the team's recent success against Swift Current. The Pats lead the season series with a 4-1-0-1 record, including a rare road win on Jan. 23 when they left the Credit Union iplex with a 5-2 decision.

"We know how to beat them and we know how to beat them in their rink," added Weal. "We got a big win there last time so that definitely helps out. We just have to go in there and play our game and stick to the details."

© Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post

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StarPhoenix article (Blades score big-time in trade for Viedensky)

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February 26 2010, 7:42 AM 

Blades score big-time in trade for Viedensky

Slovakian centre has 27 points in 19 games since arriving

By Kevin Mitchell, The StarPhoenix

February 26, 2010

Saskatoon Blades vs. P.A. Raiders

7 p.m. tonight

Credit Union Centre

- - -

The Saskatoon Blades plucked Marek Viedensky off the trade-deadline shelf and soon learned they'd struck a sweet bargain.

The Slovakian centre found his goal-scoring touch after the Blades acquired him from Prince George at the Jan. 10 deadline. In fact, he's playing on par with the elite players in the league -- which is a boon for the Blades, who absorbed criticism for not landing top-end scoring talent at the deadline.

"You never know what's going to happen when you make a trade," said Blades' coach and general manager Lorne Molleken, who sent 15-year-old goalie Tyler Santos and a third-round bantam pick in 2010 to Prince George, along with a conditional third-round pick for 2011. The latter pick takes effect if Viedensky, who was picked by San Jose in the seventh round of last summer's NHL draft, returns for another season of junior hockey.

"We paid a big price for him," Molleken continued, "but it's well worth it. We looked at all different kinds of players, top-end guys. But he fit right in. When you look at the price of all these other guys, then you look at Marek . . ."

Viedensky -- a playmaker who tallied four goals in 31 games with Prince George -- has 11 goals and 13 assists in 21 games since joining the Blades. That production level bests most of the highly-sought players who were available and went to other teams prior to the trade deadline, including Tyler Shattock, Jimmy Bubnick, Brent Raedeke and Tomas Vincour.

Regina Pats' sniper Jordan Eberle, the most highly-coveted trade target, stayed put and has 12 goals and 15 assists in 19 games during the post-deadline span. League scoring leader Craig Cunningham of Vancouver has the same points-production as Viedensky in three fewer games.

The Blades -- fighting for first place in the overall WHL standings -- acquired Viedensky to shore up their second line, but he's since formed a quality first-line combination alongside Derek Hulak and Josh Nicholls.

"It's nice when you score goals, but I don't care if I score or if I'm passing," says Viedensky, whose Blades host the Prince Albert Raiders today at 7 p.m. and the Regina Pats on Saturday. "I don't need to score points; I can help the team by playing defence and getting a plus instead of a minus. That's good for us and good for me."

Playing hockey in Canada is the fulfillment of a life-long dream for Viedensky, who hails from Handlova, Slovakia. He's represented his country at the last two world junior championships.

"It was my plan almost since I was born -- to go to Canada and play, because this is hockey country," Viedensky said following Thursday's practice. "That was my dream. When I was drafted by PG (in the Canadian Hockey League's European draft), I said 'OK, let's go; try and see how well I can do.' This was my best move. I was drafted after last season by San Jose, and that was my other dream. This has helped me so much."

Viedensky got an added bonus last week when his parents and brother arrived for a two week visit. They're staying with him at his new billet's house, and older brother Matus -- also a pretty good player -- has skated with the Blades at practice.

"He's re-energized things around here because of his personality," Molleken says of his 19-year-old centre. "He's always in an up-beat mood. He's produced on the ice, and off the ice, he's been a real plus. He's an intense kid with tremendous work ethic -- second, third and fourth efforts on the ice. He's relentless out there, and he's exceeded all expectations as far as what he's produced to this point."

The Blades, who top the overall WHL standings with a 42-14-3-4 record, take on 30-28-3-2 Prince Albert tonight. The Raiders are ninth in the Eastern Conference, one point out of the eighth and final playoff spot.

Notes: The Blades called up forward Levi Bews for Tuesday's game with Chilliwack and they've opted to keep him around for the rest of the season. Bews was the team's second-round pick in the 2009 bantam draft . . . tonight's game is billed as Faith Night. The Christian hip-hop group G.R.I.T.S. will perform in a mini-concert at 6 p.m. and again after the game. Fans can take to the ice at game's end for a free skate.


© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

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