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World-class Send-off

The last great hockey we're likely to see for some time left a lasting impression

The world cup of Hockey was set to wrap up on Tuesday, when Canada was scheduled to play Finland in the final in Toronto. With a lockout looming--the collective bargaining agreement was to expire on Wednesday--it was the last action NHL players are likely to see for a while. Here's what the tournament taught us.

•Mario can still be super. Mario Lemieux might have been ravaged by a hip injury, which sidelined him for most of the NHL season, but not by time. The 38-year-old worked diligently to prepare himself for this three-week tournament, then gave us a (final?) glimpse of his rare passing skills and vision. Of course, his Team Canada linemates were Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla, nothing like the threadbare talent base he has in Pittsburgh. If the lockout drags, will Lemieux play another NHL game?

•Team USA's glory days are gone. There hasn't been a Lost Generation of Americans like this since the '20s. While Canada and Russia were buoyed by young stars, the U.S., which lost to Finland in the semis, looked as if it were trying to win the 1996 World Cup all over again with a team that averaged almost 32 years of age. There are gifted players from the U.S.'s defending world junior champions in the pipeline--notably defenseman Ryan Suter, forward Zack Parise and goalie Al Montoya--but they may not be ready for the 2006 Olympics, hockey's next major international event.

•Miikka Kiprusoff is the goods. This might seem obvious given the Finnish goalie's playoff work with the Flames last spring, but NHL netminders often suffer hangovers after superb seasons--most recently Anaheim's Jean-Sébastien Gigu√®re after his Conn Smythe run in 2003. Kiprusoff (1.18 goals-against average and shutouts against the Czech Republic and Germany) excelled in leading Finland to the final.

•Sweden should change its national colors from blue and yellow to shrinking violet. As they usually do in big games, the Swedes capitulated, this time to the Czechs in a quarterfinal match on home ice in Stockholm. It's disgraceful that a team built around forwards Peter Forsberg and Mats Sundin and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom has been unable to win a big tournament other than the watered-down 1998 world championships. Sweden's issues go way beyond spotty goaltending.

•Even all-star teams need soul. Unlike his counterparts at USA Basketball, Hockey Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky knows how to weave strong role players into a team loaded with talent. Rather than choose players for marketing reasons--remember the fundamentally challenged basketball team in Athens?--Canada included speedy checker Kris Draper, who rewarded the choice in the semis with solid work against Jaromir Jagr's line and a third-period goal. --Michael Farber




  Lemieux's line had eight points in a 5-0 quarterfinal rout of Slovakia.