Team Canada Justin Williams watches a play while sitting on the bench during a practice session Friday, in Mytischi, Russia. (CP PHOTO/Jacques Boissinot)
Gold medals from the IIHF world hockey championship are hard to come by. Canada has won the world championship just four times in the 30 years NHLers have been participating.
Chalk that up, in part, to the fickle nature of the tournament. The winning team will play nine games and has to win its final three.
"It's like playing a Game 7 every day basically," Canadian coach Andy Murray said after practice at Mytischi Arena on Friday. "You can't afford sit back in any game."
Canada opens the tournament on Saturday against Germany.
In preliminary-round action Friday, the U.S. defeated Austria 6-2, Finland shut out Ukraine 5-0, the Czechs hammered Belarus 8-2 and Russia beat Denmark 9-1.
Murray recently visited Switzerland to get a sneak peak at the Germans in an exhibition game and came away impressed.
"They play an aggressive style and their hockey is really starting to come on," said the St. Louis Blues coach, who has two gold medals sitting in his safety deposit box after coaching the 1997 and 2003 world championship teams.
It's the sort of thing that can be said of almost any team in the tournament. Hockey is growing in a number of countries and no opponent can be taken too lightly at this level.
Williams won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes last spring and has come here to try and add to the gold medal he won at the 2004 world championship in the Czech Republic. He knows it won't be easy.
"There's no tap-in games," Williams said. "Everything's tough.
"Winning gold medals takes those intangibles. It's the little things in the game that will ultimately decide if you're going to win or not."
The Canadian team isn't favoured to win the tournament but that's of little importance to the 22 players wearing red and white. Mike Cammalleri (34), Williams (33) and Eric Staal (30) are each coming off 30-goal seasons in the NHL and will be counted on for offence by Canada along with Rick Nash and teenagers Jordan Staal and Jonathan Toews.
Leadership will come from the veteran Doan, who was named captain on Friday. Like Brewer, the alternate captain, he won gold at the world championships in 2003 and 2004. The second alternate position will be rotated through the veteran players.
Murray hopes his team comes to be defined by its strong defensive play. Brewer, Shea Weber, Barret Jackman, Dan Hamhuis and Mike Commodore will anchor the Canadian blue-line. Veteran Dwayne Roloson is expected to get the start in goal on Saturday against the Germans.
It's a blue-collar lineup, especially compared to the star-studded Russian squad, which features the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Frolov.
Russia is the early favourite to win the gold while the Slovaks are also expected to challenge for the title. Sweden is the defending champion but is missing key players such as Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg.
Unlike the Russians, the Canadians haven't received much attention in pre-tournament talk as a result, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
As Williams points out, few were picking his Hurricanes to go all the way a year ago.
"Sometimes the pieces just fit and guys jell together," he said. "When you believe in yourselves, anything's possible."
Cammalleri is a perfect example of that.
The speedy L.A. Kings forward is generously listed at five foot nine but has shown he can be one of the most dynamic players on any ice surface. Cammalleri had a career-best 34 goals and 80 points this year.
He was part of the Canadian team that finished fourth at last year's world championship in Latvia and told coach Murray that he doesn't plan on leaving Russia without some hardware in his suitcase. The 24-year-old has experienced his share of disappointment in the past.
"I know how hard it is to win at international events," said Cammalleri. "This will be the fifth time putting the Canadian jersey on and the only gold I've won is at the under-18 (in 1999).
"And those were all great teams."
Something as small as a bad bounce can be the difference, but Williams prefers to focus on the things the Canadians can control.
He doesn't expect any other country to work harder.
"It's all second effort," said Williams. "It's outbattling your opponent to get the puck. When you lose it, you've got to work twice as hard to get it back."
When he looks around the dressing room, Williams sees a group of players he's comfortable calling teammates.
"Myself, right now, I feel that we've got a great team and no one in that room is going to say otherwise," said Williams. "We're here to win a gold medal."
Murray wouldn't have it any other way.
He doesn't mind if his players have already cleared out some space in a secure place back home.
"Every time you come, you should be expecting to get one," he said.