BERN, Switzerland – Dan Hamhuis has enough experience at the IIHF World Hockey Championship to know how easily things can go wrong.
The soft-spoken defenceman is representing Canada at the tournament for the fourth straight year but has just one gold medal in his collection.
That came two years ago in Moscow, when the undefeated Canadians had very few hiccups. The other tournaments didn’t go as smoothly – he had to settle for silver last year in Quebec and came home empty-handed from Latvia in 2006 after Canada finished fourth.
Those disappointments have taught him a thing or two about the perils the medal round can bring.
Canada begins medal round play Thursday with a quarter-final game against Latvia (TSN, 10:15 a.m. ET).
Hamhuis knows from experience that focus and consistency will be key.
“All these games are really emotional games and we’ve got to keep that in check,” Hamhuis said Tuesday in Regensdorf. “The other thing, too, is you can’t take 10 minutes off or a period off, you end up digging yourself too big of a hole. We’ve done it in the past.”
Hamhuis recalled the semifinals in 2006 when Canada fell behind in the first period and couldn’t recover.
“It ended up costing us our tournament,” he said. “And last year, too, we didn’t play, we sat back too much in the third period (against Russia) and it cost us the championship.”
The Canadians need three straight victories to reclaim gold, starting with Thursday’s Latvia matchup.
While that game likely won’t be as tough as Monday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Finland, the Canadian players know that they need to tighten up. A loss in the quarter-finals would bring an abrupt end to a tournament that started with five comfortable victories.
The do-or-die scenario will be reflected in the team’s approach to the game.
“A lot of times you have to be a little bit conservative on what you’re going to do offensively,” said forward Shawn Horcoff, who has been solid in a defensive role. “Just because you want to limit the offensive chances the other team has, and just play really good smart hockey that’s going to give your team the best chance to win.
“During these games every player is going to look at themselves – what they bring and really assess what they can do out there to put our team in the best situation.”
At least there’s time for preparation.
Canadian coach Lindy Ruff elected not to hold a practice Tuesday as the team travelled from Regensdorf to its new hotel near Bern. One player was left behind as defenceman Ian White decided to return to Canada to have a neck injury checked out by the Toronto Maple Leafs medical staff.
There are concerns that his neck pain could be related to a concussion so White didn’t want to take any chances. Leaving this late in the tournament wasn’t easy.
“It’s terrible,” said White. “You really want to be a part of it. This is what it’s all about here. It’s really tough but what are you going to do? I just play the cards that I’m laid.”
His departure won’t have a major impact on Ruff’s bench. The coach wasn’t happy about having to dress eight defencemen for Sunday’s game against Norway and now he’ll be down to seven.
Ruff was glad that his team was finally challenged during the loss to Finland and thinks it might serve as a bit of a wakeup call heading into the medal round.
He expects his players to raise their game in Bern.
“This is my first kick at this, but obviously I think the pride factor really kicks in,” said Ruff. “I thought it did (against Finland). The challenge was good. To get down and try to battle back and nullify some of their speed and carry some of the play, I think was as good thing. We had to lock in.
“I think we’ve got to take it one more step now.”
There should be plenty of intrigue in the final days of a world championship that remains without a clear favourite. Canada and Russia led their respective pools in the round robin but there is no certainty that either country will reach the gold medal game.
The Czechs, Finns, Swedes and Americans also have designs on reaching the final and Hamhuis believes it isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility that the Latvians or Belarusians could pull off an upset or two.
“We watch the games,” said Hamhuis. “The Russians look good, but it’s hard to say how the matchups are going to end up. It’s not a seven game series, it’s one game and you run into a hot goalie, you never know who’s going to come out on top.
“Any of the eight can win it. Certainly, the top six are more favoured, but all you really need to do is throw together three really good games and have a really good goalie.”