Those bright red mittens that everyone in Canada seems to be wearing weren't extended for many handshakes on a morose Monday in the land up north.
Hockey fans — and that's about 90 percent of the populace — frantically searched Internet news accounts for word on whether Martin Brodeur is out and Roberto Luongo is in as goalie for a game Tuesday nobody anticipated. (The answer: Yes.)
Across the provinces, the conversations no doubt were the same: Where's Sidney Crosby? Why couldn't Brodeur stop shooters he once faced every day in practice? Why is the Olympic team — most of them NHL all-stars — taking so many penalties? Why are so many shots being stopped? Why is this happening again?
Why? Why? Why?
Nothing in Canada unites, excites, frustrates or angers the nation as much as its hockey team, which is on the verge of a second Olympic collapse in as many games after losing to the rival United States 5-3 on Sunday.
A medal isn't out of the question, but a team that only a week ago was the favorite and the pride of the land seemingly couldn't have created a rougher or more demanding journey to the gold-medal game.
"It's like winning the Stanley Cup, or doing anything great in life. You have to work hard and overcome. It's going to be a testament to this team to see how we come back from this so-called loss, upset, whatever you want to call it," defenseman Chris Pronger said Monday. "Sometimes you don't know how things work out when you take a different path."
Canada must win four games in six days, starting with Germany in a play-in game Tuesday. After that, unless there's a major upset, they would have to beat Russia and Sweden in a span of three days to advance. If they find their way to the gold medal game, they might meet the United States in a rematch.
"It is probably not where we wanted to come in," Crosby said. "But that is where we are now. When you get to this point in the tournament it is not going to be easy. The fact we have to play an extra game isn't a terrible thing, and we will be ready for it."
As coach Mike Babcock said, no one expected this to be easy, it's the Olympics. But the Canadians, who needed a shootout to beat Switzerland, must circumvent what arguably is the toughest bracket since NHL players began playing in the Olympics in 1998.
"We've just chosen a longer route to where we want to go," Babcock said.
Even in the Olympic village, it probably was difficult for the players to get away from the talking heads and street corner critics who are questioning why a reconfigured, younger and gloriously hyped team is experiencing agonies similar to those of the supposedly less-talented 2006 team. That aging team was shut out in three of its final four games while finishing seventh in Turin.
"We don't talk about it much," Brodeur said. "We just try to be in our own little world and do out things and not think about it and just try to perform."
In Canada, it seems everyone has an opinion when it comes to hockey. And the melancholy looks and disbelieving faces of the fans exiting Canada Hockey Place after the Americans' victory Sunday no doubt expressed the sentiments of the estimated 10.6 million who watched on TV, the largest sports audience in Canadian history.
"I don't think our team's looked terrible, or out of place out there," forward Eric Staal said. "I feel our best is yet to come. We have to have confidence in that."
But what happens if the Canadians lose again, especially before the weekend? Canada has been gearing up for the gold-medal game for years. And, now, there's a good chance the home team won't be there.
The players are trying to be optimistic, even if it is difficult to find much good in playing a qualification game.
"We're here to do one thing, and that's be the last ones standing," Brodeur said. "We're still alive so there's no problem with that."
Brodeur's uneven play while allowing four goals on 22 shots is the talk of Canada; three were given up to players with whom he couldn't be more familiar, former Devils teammate Brian Rafalski (2 goals) and current teammate Jamie Langenbrunner (1 goal).
"I hate to say it, but right now that's what we need, to play more games," Brodeur said. "There are things we've got to work on, and hopefully the extra game will give us that opportunity."
"That's the situation we face with a group of guys who have been through so many things in the past," Crosby said. "I think we're all confident we can be our best when we need to."
U.S. coach Ron Wilson said Canada remains dangerous: "There's some great teams out there. Canada, I personally think, is the best team."
Right now, it's not.
Crosby, the player most counted upon to deliver a gold, hasn't been a flop in his first Olympics, with two goals and three assists in three games, but he's a minus-1. He's also not delivering game-changing plays. During numerous shifts Sunday, he got little going.
There's still time for Canada. But the worry is there soon won't be a tomorrow.
For weeks, a TV commercial in Canada has been preaching — remind them whose game it is. Right now, it's not Canada's.
Source: AP News