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After Canada's nervy 1-0 quarterfinal win over Finland on Wednesday night, the goal scorer, Maxime Noreau, ran – actually ran in skates – through the mixed zone.

As he passed, he yelled out, "Sorry, guys. Sorry, guys. My family's gotta get on a train."

There's only one train here in Pyeongchang. It's a high-speed job that connects to Seoul. Which means Noreau's family is probably flying home. Which means they may have had some preconceived ideas about how and when this hockey parade would end.

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If you watched the game, you would have had similar thoughts. Canada was manhandled by a freakishly large Finnish team in the first period. They pulled it together in the second. They hung on in the third.

There was a point midway through the first when someone like Connor McDavid would've had two goals. This version of Team Canada had two shots, combined.

The only star-calibre player on the ice, Finnish teenager Eeli Tolvanen, occasionally looked like he was being projected at a different film speed from everyone else. But even Tolvanen could not overcome Canadian pluck (i.e. occasionally putting someone face-first into the boards).

The winning performance was not impressive, but it had the most Canadian quality of all – grittiness. This game was a Sahara sandstorm of grit.

"Guys were literally blocking pucks with their face," said former NHLer Derek Roy.

Really?

"No, not really. But they would've."

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On the grit index, goalie Kevin Poulin was superfine (above 360 grit at your local Home Depot).

Poulin currently plays professionally in Zagreb, Croatia, about two hours from the coast. It's a great place to enjoy the laid-back Adriatic lifestyle, café culture and the nearby beach. It's not great for hockey.

A year ago, he was playing in Kazakhstan, which is not so hot on any of the above.

So all of this is a bit unlikely.

Back then, could you have imagined yourself here, representing your country, now with a very good shot at an Olympic medal?

"Not really," Poulin said.

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End of answer.

Poulin is a graduate of the strong-and-silent school of goaltending (as opposed to the only other school – odd-and-superstitious). After what must have been the win of his life, he had almost nothing to say for himself.

He came into the contest in suboptimal conditions. Ben Scrivens started but had to leave the game after a teammate trucked a sizable Finn into him at high speed.

Poulin had no opportunity for any sort of warm-up. Almost immediately, Finland went on the power play. The first shot he faced was a cross-ice one timer through a thicket of legs.

Did that relax you?

"No," said Poulin. And then, after some consideration, "Because the job is not over."

In a more expansive discussion on his professional approach, Poulin said, "You don't want to overthink."

Clearly.

When it got silly at the end, as it was always going to do, Poulin was the salient from which Canada defended itself. You expect this sort of thing from Carey Price. You do not from someone who routinely plays in front of crowds in the low four figures.

Canadian coach Willie Desjardins said that he would wait until morning to check in on Scrivens, but you know how that generally goes.

He now has one healthy goalie who has yet to allow a goal here (Poulin played in the final group game against South Korea), and one injured one who featured in Canada's only loss.

Considering how you might justify yourself later, which would you say was the safer bet for Desjardins?

The next step is beating Germany, who surprised Sweden on Wednesday. When Eric O'Dell was asked what he thought of that match-up, he "no commented." Which is odd.

Desjardins was asked what he knew about the German team, and said, "I know more about that [German] league."

How's the league?

"It's a good league."

So it's probably fair to say that this semi-final will not be won by the scouting department.

Though advancement to the gold-medal game will now be expected, Canada managed to let itself off the hook on Wednesday. They may not succeed in the end, but it cannot be said they failed. A bunch of washed-up third liners and assorted no-hopers got to the final weekend of an Olympics. That's something.

The only place this plucky underdog story will not capture hearts is at the NHL head offices in New York.

Deciding to remove their own players was a ransom note sent to the IOC – pay us, or else. They gambled on the premise that this thing would turn into a total bust.

Canada stumbling at this hurdle (as the USA did earlier on Wednesday) would have constituted a small disaster. Because who wants your event to end with a show you know no one's going to watch?

Most people would still like to see the NHL here, but Canada's success gives the IOC a way to justify itself. Sure, they're hosting a subpar tournament, but the biggest names – us, Russia, the Czechs – are in there. Plus, they get a potential Miracle on Ice in the Germans.

Despite worst intentions, degrading the ice-hockey competition has gone okay for the Olympics. It has not been anywhere close to the sport's elite level, but games have been closely contested and exciting. The Russians remain the dominant force, and Canada is the likeliest team to face them in a final. It's a bit David-and-Goliath at that point.

Aside from USA-USSR version 2.0, it's a dream scenario for the IOC. They can start patting themselves on the back. It's all worked out.

Now we get to see if Canada comes out of this feeling the same way.

The head coach of Canada’s Olympic men’s hockey team, which includes no current NHLers, says the players shared a 'dream' to compete for their country. Willie Desjardins was at the team announcement Wednesday in Calgary. The Canadian Press
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