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Canadian Tradition Nearing Blue Line

Hockey: Loss to U.S. still weighs heading into World Cup semifinals.

September 07, 1996|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — While Canada struggles to uphold its rich hockey history, the United States is poised to make history in the World Cup of Hockey.

Canada, an erratic 3-1, will face Sweden, 3-0, in the first semifinal game today at the CoreStates Center. Sweden outscored Germany, the Czech Republic and Finland, 14-3, to win the European pool and gain a bye into the third round, but Canada has lost to the U.S. and played surprisingly close games with Slovakia and Germany since defeating Russia in its opener.

"What's going to tell the story of our hockey club is how well we play [tonight]," said Wayne Gretzky, Canada's scoring leader with three goals and five points. "I expect us to play well. We'll be very physical and guys like Eric Lindros, Mark Messier and Brendan Shanahan will have to play the body. We need guys to be playing physical and trying to intimidate them legally. If we do that, we can win."

Sweden is wary, despite Canada's woes.

"Look at all the experienced guys on that team," said defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings. "They always raise their level of play as tournaments go on."

The United States, which went 3-0 in winning the North American pool to get a bye into the semis, will face the winner of Friday's Finland-Russia quarterfinal on Sunday in Ottawa, Canada. Coach Ron Wilson's team has become one of the favorites, according to Swedish Coach Kent Forsberg.

"When the U.S. beat Canada [last Saturday] it was the best game in the tournament," Forsberg said.

The United States has never won this tournament, formerly known as the Canada Cup. But solid defensive play and the emergence of the Keith Tkachuk-Mike Modano-Bill Guerin line have made the U.S. a serious contender.

"We got this far, and we want to keep going," said Tkachuk, who has five points. "We came together well as a team. We thought this was the time in our career we could make a statement about the U.S. hockey program. We're sick of taking a back seat to Canada."

Canadian Coach Glen Sather acknowledged that "not a lot" of his players have met his expectations.

"It's been a hit-and-miss situation," he said. "Who would think Eric Lindros wouldn't have a goal at this stage? From the way he played in training camp, you think he'd dominate and he hasn't. "

Lindros, who hopes hometown Flyer fans will back him tonight, is centering for Colorado's Joe Sakic and Shanahan of Hartford.

A physical game could be what he needs to awaken.

"I don't know what to predict," Lindros said. "I'm sure it won't be a ballet."

World Cup Notes

Canadian center Mark Messier was termed questionable because of a pulled groin muscle, but Wayne Gretzky said Messier would play. . . . King defenseman Rob Blake, who sat out Canada's last two games because of a pulled groin muscle, is expected back tonight. . . . Swedish defenseman Mattias Norstrom, acquired by the Kings last season, has won raves in the tournament. "This is going to help me for the season," he said. "I feel good about this season. For me, it's a fresh start, and maybe that goes for the team too. Some great players left the organization, but we got some good young players and hopefully they can establish themselves."

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