And so it begins. One of the fascinating things about international tournaments, especially from a Team Canada perspective, is that hockey fans can watch the team grow right in front of their eyes. The individual talent is obvious right from the drop of the first puck, never more so than on this current team featuring six hotshots who were all born in the 1990s for goodness sake. But team play is lacking, as it must with so many players who have never played together prior to the day before yesterday. In the current case, many of the players haven't played a meaningful game in four weeks due to the especially late start of the 2010 Worlds. (Usually this tourney is winding up on Mother's Day.)
The seedings and schedule are structured so that teams at or near the top of the rankings will always get the weak sisters at the beginning of the tourney. This is probably in everybody's best interests; today, it allowed a badly overmatched Italy to put up a very respectable showing in limiting Canada to a 5-1 triumph. Convincing enough, but hardly the full-blown shellacking one might expect if the two teams were to meet even a week from now. From a Canadian perspective this was a tune-up game which was likely a step down from their one exhibition game, against host Germany last Tuesday.
Score by period:
Canada ....... 2-2-1 = 5
Italy ............ 1-0-0 = 1
Shots by period:
Canada ...... 16-15-14 = 45
Italy ............. 8 - 7 - 9 = 24
One thing that's always interesting even in the first game is the line combinations. Often at least a couple of lines will remain intact throughout the tournament, especially if they show signs of clicking in those early games. It's the coach's best guess going in, and letting a trio build chemistry over the whole two weeks is surely Plan A. Only when something is clearly not working is the coach inclined to tinker, as we saw during the Olympics. After the break I'll look - briefly, because frankly the game wasn't that interesting :) - at each Canadian line combo and defence pairing.
First, though, a good word about Italy. Their most famous player is captain Roland Ramoser, and if you're saying who's that? you're surely not alone. Ramoser (pictured, above) is playing in his 13th World Championships which is a remarkable accomplishment. Call him the Ville Peltonen of Italy. The supersized veteran was born during the Summit Series, one of the few left who dates back to the dawn of the professional era of international hockey. He played a pretty impressive game, all things considered; I liked his board work in the defensive zone particularly. The only other names I thought I recognized on the roster turned out to be Domenic Pittis's brother and Marco Scandella's brother! Shy on talent, the Italians skated hard, both ways, for the full 60 minutes. They were overwhelmed at the one-on-one level, but 5-on-5 they kept their shape and played reasonably stout defence. My hat is off to them for playing their level best and making a game of it.
Bourque - Stamkos - Perry: The starting trio scored all four Canadian goals against Germany in mid-week, and led the attack again today with each player scoring once. The trio fired 15 shots, led by Stamkos' team-high 6, and led the team in ice time at around 18 minutes apiece, despite being sharply scaled back in the third. These three horses have a lot more to give than that. The size and skill of Perry and Bourque nicely complement the Lightning-fast trigger of the Rocket Richard-winner. They weren't reluctant to scrum it up either, with Perry showing one fine example of his notorious douchebaggery when he gratuitously gave the goalie the stick in the chest and neck at the bottom of one huge pile-up. The refs didn't see a thing but the net cam got a beauty view.
Whitney - Duchene - Tavares: Ray Whitney celebrated his 38th birthday in fine style, cavorting around the ice like a young colt half his age. Which was exactly how old both of his linemates were, the first and third picks from last year's Entry Draft. They missed their shot at the World Juniors so get one in the World Seniors instead. I love it. The presence of so many young superstars in a post-Olympic year makes this tourney especially fascinating. Whitney meanwhile rightly received the player of the game award, earning two primary assists on nifty passes and narrowly missing a handful of other points. The former Oiler is much more "former" than "Oiler", but I have always liked him since the days he was himself a hotshot junior, back when Tavares, Duchene et al were busy being born.
Laich - Ott - Downie: No shortage of grease on this "energy" trio which includes two of the game's most hated players. Brooks Laich is much more highly respected but plays the game every bit as hard. This will not at all be a fun line to play against, unless your idea of fun is of the extracurricular type. Downie's 9:38 was by far the least on Canada, in part because he took a coincidental double minor during garbage time but mostly because Ott and Laich had PK duties.
Kane - Peverley - Smyth: Not particularly an auspicious debut. Captain Canada is back for his eighth kick at the WC can :) and was playing his familiar grinding plug-and-play style that fits on any line, although he looked a tad rusty to my eye. Kane, yet another recent top-5 pick and still just 18, looked a little nervous, taking a penalty for dumping the puck over the glass. Peverley caught my eye mostly by losing The Worst Faceoff In The History Of Hockey, in which Canada had a 5-on-3 powerplay and literally within one second of the faceoff Italy had a wide-open 3-on-2 from their own hashmarks. It was so bad I watched it over and over on my PVR: Peverley cleanly lost the draw, then all three of Peverley, Smyth and Perry went for the puck, the Italian defender got there first and beat all three guys with a simple spin move, allowing the Italians to break out of their zone all three abreast. That's the sort of stuff the coaches will be working on between now and next game I would imagine.
Eberle: Not on the roster, in reserve if injuries happen before possible reinforcements arrive. Not looking too likely he'll get a game.
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Staal - Burns: Two more fairly recent high drafts with Team Canada pedigree have been set up as Canada's top pairing. They looked real solid today, especially Burns who was skating the best I've seen in a while. He led all defenders with 18:12. Not enough worth shutting down on the Italian roster to really test them.
Cumiskey - Myers: The giant Myers impresses every time I see him. Excellent one-on-one skills, and an amazingly good puckhandler for a young giant. Cumiskey is mobile enough, but he might be in deep aganst better competition.
Russell - Giordano: Same goes for Russell, who might become a liability defensively. Today his skating and puckhandling skills were on display, and they are impressive. Scored the winning goal off a Whitney feed on a nice backdoor play. Giordano looked real good rushing the puck, and even split the defence for a surprise breakaway in the third.
Beauchemin - Del Zotto: Solid pairing from MacT to combine the youngest, most-exposable defender in the 19-year-old Del Zotto with the veteran Beauchemin who played a safe solid game. 13 uneventful minutes apiece.
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Mason: That's Chris Mason, the older, righthanded guy that plays for the Blues, not Steve. He's a dependable veteran goalie who played a solid game.
Johnson: That would be Chad Johnson, who had me on the Google wire. Four-year NCAA goalie who just finished his first professional season, inclduing 5 games with the Rangers. I would imagine that Canada will add a "name" goalie after round 2 of the playoffs. For some reason I'm not hoping and praying it will be Roberto Luongo. Given the nature of this team, Carey Price would seem a natural.
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Next up: Latvia, Monday May 10 @ 12:15 MDT.