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Canada's hockey team gets physical against Russia

Russian goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is pulled early in the second period after giving up six goals against Canada. (Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/MCT)
Russian goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is pulled early in the second period after giving up six goals against Canada. (Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/MCT)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — They played old school Canadian hockey Wednesday night, all small town and big hits.

In the first furious minutes of what was supposed to be a frozen classic, the Canadians threw haymakers at the Russians and every one of them landed.

Shea Weber knocked down Maxin Afinogenov. Mike Richards crashed Evgeni Malkin in the corner.

First the puck dropped and then the Russians dropped.

"This was the definition of Canadian hockey," Jarome Iginla said after Canada's 7-3 quarterfinal win over Russia. "This is definitely how we wanted to play the game, the Canadian-style hockey, physical hockey.

"The physical style is something we've been talking about. When we have success, we're able to grind teams. We're able to wear teams down."

They played the way Canadians play, growing up in Thunder Bay and Moose Jaw, in Red Deer and Port Hawkesbury. This is how they learned the game on the frozen ponds of the prairies and the chilly rinks of factory towns. Hockey with bite.

The Canadians hammered the Russians with every early hip check, bodycheck and face plant. They hit everyone wearing red. They threw pucks into the corners and hungrily chased after them.

They were a step faster and several shades meaner than Russia.

"They came out like gorillas out of a cage," said Russian goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who replaced starter Evgeni Nabokov in the second period, with Canada ahead 6-1.

It was an all-time hockey night in Canada.

Corey Perry drove Dmitri Kalinin face-first into the glass. Drew Doughty dropped Alexander Ovechkin to the ice and this lusty home-ice crowd roared its approval.

"You look at the start of the game. That's how we had to come out and that's the way we did it," said Perry, who scored two second-period goals. "This is the way we play in Canada. Physical play, Grinding. Cycling and forechecking. That's what we did tonight. That's what wore them down. I think tonight we found our stride."

The Canadians were relentless, skating downhill toward the beleaguered Nabokov.

"They kept on coming and coming," Nabokov said. "They didn't surprise us with their physicality, but with how hungry they were."

Ryan Getzlaf scored in the third minute. Dan Boyle scored on a power play in the 13th minute. And Rick Nash skated hard down the middle of the ice, took a perfect pass from Jonathan Towes and made it 3-0 at 12:55.

"We fed off the early energy in the building," Iginla said. "We've been building the work ethic, the compete level throughout the tournament. Tonight we took a big step."

All is well in Canada.

All of the public hand-wringing after Sunday's loss to the United States, all of the worry over the disorganized lines, all of the national angst that hung around for almost three days, evaporated in the first 20 minutes of this game, when Canada took a 4-1 lead.

"Guys are just playing hockey now," Iginla said. "I think the first week here guys were a little excited, a little tentative. Now guys are being assertive and aggressive early. We've been able to channel our energy, get hits, be physical and play more on our toes."

Canada had waited 50 years for this game, and on this wicked Wednesday, its hockey team played as if it was after world hockey domination; as if there was Canada and then there was the rest of the world.

The Canadians made the Russians looked like the Islanders. For this one day at least, Canada was the toughest, meanest, best hockey team on the planet.

"It's do or die and guys are enjoying that," Perry said.

Canada, which hadn't beaten Russia in an Olympic game since 1960, played this game as if the Cold War was still alive. Bobby Clarke would have been proud.

Late in the game, Canadian defenseman Dan Boyle was checked hard into the boards in the corner by Russia's Alexander Semin.

Boyle popped off the ice, chased after Semin and threw him down hard with a shoulder and a stick.

"It was probably a good hit," Boyle said of Semin's check. Then he shrugged, "That's hockey."

That's Canadian hockey.

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