Team Canada

Team Canada’s net is Carey Price’s to lose

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SOCHI, Russia — Mike Babcock had a plan, and he’s sticking with it.

Hence, the decision by Team Canada’s head coach to start Carey Price over Roberto Luongo tonight versus Finland in his team’s final test of the preliminary round. If Price plays well, the net should be his for the win-or-go-home games.

But if he doesn’t?

“At the Olympic Games, you’re allowed one change,” said Babcock.

Babcock, of course, used his one change four years ago in Vancouver, where he turned to Luongo for the elimination games after Martin Brodeur lost to the United States in the preliminary round.

Arguments could be made for both Price and Luongo — who beat minnows Norway and Austria, respectively, in Canada’s first two games here in Sochi — to get the nod going forward. The former was in better form coming into the Games, but the latter has more big-game experience, including a victory in the 2010 gold-medal game.

For Price, assuming he doesn’t lose the job versus the Finns, the next week will be the biggest of his career. Even in the hockey-mad city of Montreal, he hasn’t the faced the pressure of playing the sport’s most important position, against the world’s best players, and with a country’s hopes on the line.

Round 1 of Canada-U.S. hockey done, but women know ‘war is still to be played’

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SOCHI, Russia — How to find meaning in a so-called meaningless game – that was the challenge after Canada’s 3-2 victory over the United States Wednesday at Shayba Arena.

Because here’s the thing: barring a tremendous upset in Monday’s semifinals, to which both sides have advanced, the two women’s hockey powerhouses are still expected to meet in the gold-medal game on Feb. 20.

“Ultimately it’s a battle and the war is still to be played,” said Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser,  who finished with a goal and an assist.

And that looming war is ultimately why none of the American players, nor coach Katey Stone, put up much of a fuss over Canada’s second goal, by Wickenheiser, that seemed to cross the line after the referee’s whistle blew.

“I did hear the whistle blow before the puck went in,” said Stone.

“But what are you going to do? That’s what happens. We had a lot of time left in that game. I’m not going to hang my hat on that one.”

The final score did mean one thing for sure. Canada has now won 18 straight games in the Olympics, its last loss coming to the United States in the gold-medal final of the 1998 Nagano Games.

Canadian coach Kevin Dineen was pleased with today’s victory, but was hesitant to attach much significance to the final score, given all the ways the result could have been different.

VIDEO: Watch the controversial goals

“We won tonight,” said Dineen. “I’d love to say we could win two in a row. A lot of bounces go in there, those things happen. I’m just hoping we can keep moving forward.”

Wickenheiser echoed her coach’s message about getting, or sometimes not getting, the breaks.

“We know it’s always going to come down to one or two bounces when we face [the U.S.],” she said.

Stone, meanwhile, was “indifferent” to the performance of her side, suggesting a couple of areas for improvement.

“Our defensive support today in our own end was not what it’s typically been in the last two months, and that’s an area that we can continue to work on,” she said.

“And then we’ve got to establish our forecheck. It wasn’t until we got a little bit more comfortable in the game that we really started to play on our toes versus on our heels.”

At the end of the day, perhaps there’s no need to unearth some key underlying factor, some predictive element from today’s game. Perhaps it’s enough that it was another typical U.S.-Canada clash that left the fans entertained and looking forward to the teams’ next meeting.

“Both teams would like to play each other,” said Canadian goalie Charline Labonte. “It would be a bonus playing them – there would be a lot of emotion on the ice.”

Canada going Carey Price first, then Roberto Luongo in net

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Roberto Luongo and Ryan Miller started in their respective country’s nets in the 2010 gold medal game, but they won’t represent their countries in their respective opening contests. Carey Price gets Canada’s first start while Luongo goes second, according to various sources including the CBC’s Tim Wharnsby.

In the grand scheme of things, this means Price will face Norway while Luongo squares off against Austria.

Much like with Quick starting the tournament off for the U.S., many will conclude that this means that Canadian head coach Mike Babcock is leaning toward Price as the No. 1.

The truest test might be when Canada faces a more formidable opponent, as neither Norway nor Austria are concerned realistic medal contenders.

Price, 26, is having a better statistical season and comes into Sochi with a three-game winning streak. Conversely, Luongo, 34, lost his last five games and six of seven overall. Of course, he’s also the guy with a gold medal start on his resume, so this is far from a slam dunk.