HALIFAX – Ken Hitchcock knew he was leaving Halifax. He just didn’t know what mode of transportation he’d be taking.
The Canadian coach went through some nervous moments during an 8-2 quarter-final win over Norway at the IIHF World Hockey Championship on Wednesday. The victory earned his team a semifinal game with Sweden a few hours away in Quebec City.
“When it was 2-2, I was wondering if that ferry had a direct route to Columbus,” Hitchcock said before boarding a plane to Quebec instead. “The players play and they don’t worry about things. We sweated all day today as a coaching staff.
“These are defining moments for you as a coach because if you lose this game, you all (the media) are writing about us and me tomorrow. And it’s not going to be pleasant.”
The first half of this one wasn’t very pleasant.
The Norwegians were heavy underdogs but found themselves in a tie game during the second period. The atmosphere was similar to the qualification round game these teams played earlier in the tournament, when Canada needed a late goal to pull out a win.
“Once again, they held on tough,” said Canadian goalie Cam Ward, who made 22 saves. “Up until the middle of the second period, they gave us a little bit of a scare.”
The defining moment for Canada was a power-play goal by Jonathan Toews at 9:57 of the middle period. That seemed to spark the team and linemate Derek Roy soon added two goals in a span of 2:42 to give Canada a 5-2 lead before the second intermission.
There was no chance for an unlikely upset after that.
“They got three fast goals there,” said Norwegian goalie Pal Grotnes. “Then it was over.”
Give the Norwegians credit, though – defenceman Anders Myrvold had spoken of the team’s “Viking blood” and they showed plenty of toughness and fight in this one.
There are no easy games left now for a Canadian team that has reeled off 16 straight world championship wins and will have the pressure turned up as it enters the final weekend of the tournament as the favourites. Their next opponent certainly knows what’s at stake.
“It will be a lot of fun to play Canada,” said Swedish defenceman Anton Stralman. “Home ice, big favourite for a gold medal. So we’re going to go out and give them a good fight.”
The biggest obstacle for the Swedes or anyone else will be containing the Canadian forwards, who have pretty much had their way offensively so far. Roy is on this team’s third line and was the star against Norway with three goals and an assist.
Rick Nash, with two, Dany Heatley, Ryan Getzlaf and Toews also scored goals for Canada.
Morten Ask and Mathis Olimb replied for the Norway, which was making a quarter-final appearance for the first time ever at this level.
The victory was especially important to the Canadian players because it will allow Eric Staal to rejoin the team. He missed Wednesday’s game while attending a funeral for his grandfather in Thunder Bay, Ont., and will meet back up with his teammates in Quebec.
“He’s a big part of this team and he’s played extremely well for us,” said Ward, who is also a teammate of Staal’s in Carolina. “It’s very unfortunate what happened to his grandfather at this time. We know that he’s going to be fired up to come back.
“He did the right thing – family comes first. At the end of the day, we’re just playing a game that we love.”
Added Roy: “We needed a win for him. We wanted him to get another game.”
Staal’s absence opened up a spot for 18-year-old Sam Gagner but he only ended up seeing a couple of shifts in the third period once the outcome was secure.
Still, he would have had a goal if not for missing a wide open net.
“I just got a little anxious,” said Gagner. “I haven’t been out there in awhile.”
There was no one more nervous in the Metro Centre than the man in charge of travel plans for the Canadian team. The players and their families had their bags packed but weren’t totally sure whether they’d be boarding a scheduled evening flight to Quebec because a loss would have sent everyone home for the summer.
Canada scored on the opening shift for the second consecutive game. Heatley picked up a turnover in the neutral zone and came down the left wing before beating Grotnes from a sharp angle at 37 seconds.
That gave him 10 goals for the tournament – one more than the entire Norwegian team at that point.
It looked like it might get ugly but Canada soon found itself in penalty trouble. Brent Burns and Shane Doan were each sitting in the box when Ask tied the game at 7:51. He roofed one high over Ward’s glove after the Norwegians had worked the puck around nicely with the 5-on-3 advantage.
Getzlaf restored the lead after Canada had been given an extended 5-on-3 advantage of its own. He scored his second goal of the tournament at 11:02 after Grotnes had turned aside a couple shots.
The Norwegians continued to play tight and again tied the game at 5:32 of the second period. Olimb beat Ward high to the glove side to briefly silence the crowd.
The lead didn’t last and Canada soon poured it on. It was only a matter of time.
“They knew they were better, they knew they were more talented and they knew if they stayed with it they were going to win,” Hitchcock said of his players.
Canada has now earned a spot in the semifinals for the sixth straight year. This is starting to look like another march to gold and the sellout Metro Centre crowd of 9,192 let the players know it by letting out a loud ovation as time ticked away.
The next stop is Quebec City.