Team Canada beats Korea at Olympics but looks unconvincing for much of evening

Canada forward Gilbert Brule (7), Canada defenceman Maxim Noreau (56) and Canada forward Rene Bourque (17) celebrate a goal during third period men's hockey action against South Korea, at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Sunday, February 18, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Canada forward Gilbert Brule (7), Canada defenceman Maxim Noreau (56) and Canada forward Rene Bourque (17) celebrate a goal during third period men's hockey action against South Korea, at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Sunday, February 18, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — Nothing is coming easy for Team Canada at the Pyeongchang Olympics. And it's about to get more difficult with the knockout rounds up next.

Canada had a hard time disposing of South Korea on Sunday, looking unconvincing for large parts of a 4-0 win over the hockey minnow. Third-period goals by Maxim Lapierre and Gilbert Brule helped make the score look more flattering for Canada, which struggled for two periods to assert its superiority.

"They stick around," said Canadian winger Wojtek Wolski. "They had some chances on the power play. The game was a lot closer than the score shows."

"They work their butts off and their goalie seems to play well against us. Maybe because he's Canadian, he steps up," added defenceman Chris Lee. "I don't know if we could have got any more shots at him."

Matt Dalton, a 31-year-old from Clinton, Ont., who is one of seven North American imports on the Korean team, made 45 saves that included a barrage of rubber in the first period when the shot count was 14-1 at one point.

"After the first period I was trying to get some salt tablets or something. My legs were starting to cramp up a little bit ... It woke me up, that's for sure," said Dalton, surrounded by a sea of reporters. 

Christian Thomas, son of former NHLer Steve Thomas, and Eric O'Dell also scored for Canada.

The win, coupled with Sweden's 3-1 win over Finland in Group C, meant Canada finishes as the best second-place team and joins the three group winners in advancing directly to the quarterfinals.

The remaining eight teams face off to see which four joins them.

"We're going to have to be tighter," said Lee. "There's still some things that we should clean up."

Added coach Willie Desjardins: "We have to be ready. We don't have any choice. We've had a couple of good games but we've got our toughest hockey coming up and we know that."

Bypassing the playoff qualification round means an extra day off for Canada, which will no doubt be appreciated given the average age is 31-plus.

"We've got some guys that can use it," Desjardins said of the day off.

The Canadian men will play Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday's Finland-Korea game.

The Czech Republic defeated Switzerland 4-1 earlier in the day to assure top spot in Group A with eight points, one ahead of Canada.

The Canadian men opened with a 5-1 win over Switzerland that had Desjardins asking for more consistency from his team as its play ebbed and flowed. A 3-2 shootout loss to a good Czech team showed some good offence and occasionally shaky defence.

As expected, it's a far cry from the well-oiled, NHL-fuelled Canadian machine that won gold in Vancouver and Sochi. While seven points out of a possible nine is nothing to sneeze at, this Canadian team is grinding it out — with a few sputters along the way.

While Canada emerged victorious, a game Korean side and its loyal fans had a night to remember. They hung tough with a Canadian squad that, while not NHLers, plays in far better leagues than the so-called Asia League Ice Hockey circuit that is home to all the Koreans.

Canada has 20 Olympic men's hockey medals (13 gold, five silver and two bronze). Korea was playing its third-ever Olympic game and four years ago didn't own a skate-sharpener or glove-dryer.

"I'm very proud of how hard they worked and how hard they competed," said Korean coach Jim Paek, a Seoul-born former NHLer.

The Canadians also had their hands full with the Koreans at the Channel One Cup in December in Moscow. They fired 57 shots at Dalton in a 4-2 win that included an empty-net goal.

It was a party-like atmosphere Sunday at the 10,000-seat Gangneung Hockey Centre with a Korean chant starting seconds after the puck dropped.

"That's what makes this so special," said Wolski. "You play that team and the crowd's really in it, they're so excited. It was a lot of fun."

Korea had the first shot with the crowd noise rising metre by metre as Young Jun Lee skated towards the Canadian end. Canada had the next 14 shots and Thomas made it 1-0 on No. 14 with a high wrist shot that beat Dalton at 7:36.

Helped by penalties, Korea came on in the second period and Canadian goalie Kevin Poulin had several uncomfortable moments. Korea, which had 19 shots on the night, seemed to grow in confidence as Canada failed to add to its slim lead.

Canada finally beat Dalton again with its 26th shot of the evening after the goalie misread a bounce off the backboards and O'Dell was there to tuck the puck into the unguarded side of the net at 14:22 of the second.

Canada outshot the Koreans 18-5 after 20 minutes and 32-13 after 40.

With Canada playing back-to-back games, Poulin started in goal in place of Ben Scrivens.

But the spotlight was on Dalton, who stood tall in the Korean goal as he faced one shot after another in the first period. Dalton, who has dual citizenship after moving to South Korea in 2014, is a fan-favourite here.

Lapierre made it 3-0 at 3:43 of the third, slipping the puck between Dalton's legs after heading to the goal on a solo rush down the wing. Dalton doubtless would like to have that one back.

Brule rounded out the scoring on the power play at 18:02 with a backhand that hit the post before going in.

Korea, No. 21 in the IIHF world rankings in 2017, lost 2-1 to the Czechs and 8-0 to Switzerland.

The Korean team features six Canadians: Dalton, defencemen Bryan Young of Ennismore, Ont., Eric Regan of Whitby, Ont., and Alex Plante of Brandon, Man., and forwards Brock Radunske of Kitchener, Ont., and Michael Swift of Peterborough, Ont.

Dalton was in the Boston Bruins organization. Plante, Radunske and Young were Edmonton draft choices.

The roster also includes American-born winger Mike Testwuide.


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