Saturday, 27 December 2008

Two For Two

If you're a hockey fan in Canada, you had to love yesterday. Rogers' Sportsnet showed the Spengler Cup action in the afternoon between Team Canada and Energie Karlovy Vary while TSN had the World Junior Championship Game between Team USA and Team Germany. That was followed by TSN's presentation of Team Canada and the Czech Republic, so it was pretty much all hockey on my television yesterday. And, of course, there was just enough time between the two World Junior games for me to get another round of Christmas dinner leftovers in, and that's always important. If you love hockey, this might be one of the best times of the year.

Let's start with the guys who are overseas. This was a great game for Team Canada in the Spengler Cup, and certainly one that from which they can build a lot of confidence. I thought the Canadians got great goaltending from the Hershey Bears' Daren Machesney, and there were several key contributions. The powerplay units recorded three goals, and a few former NHLers led the way.

The game was dominated by Karlovy Vary in the first period as they outshot Team Canada 14-3. The Canadians, however, weathered the storm, and really picked up the tempo in the second period. Former Canuck, Oiler, and Senator Brad Isbister, who plays for Zug in the Swiss League, broke the scoreless tie at the 8:56 mark of the second period on the powerplay when he fired a shot high glove-side on Karlovy Vary goaltender Lukas Mensator.

Lukas Pech tied the game up at the 12:56 mark of the second period as he picked up his own rebound and fired it past Machesney. However, the Czech team ran into penalty problems shortly after that goal, giving Canada almost four minutes of 5-on-3 powerplay time.

The Canadians didn't waste the opportunities. Micki Dupont, who plays for Zug in the Swiss League, teed up a blast from the point on the 5-on-3, and rocketed the puck past Mensator. The former Flame, Penguin, and Blue really looked good in quarterbacking the powerplay, and he was rewarded for his work with a goal to give Canada the lead.

On the continued powerplay, the Canadians struck again during the 5-on-4 advantage. Jean-Guy Trudel, who plays for Zurich in the Swiss League, was the recipient of a fabulous tip pass from former NHLer Dominic Pittis and had a yawning cage to look at. Trudel made no mistake, and gave the Canadians a 3-1 lead. Trudel, who played four NHL games total for Phoenix and Minnesota, had a strong game, and it's nice to see a guy get a big goal after playing well.

Both teams traded chances in the third period, but neither capitalized. Team Canada defeated Energie Karlovy Vary to open the Spengler Cup, and they'll play HC Davos, the home team, today in both teams' second games. Davos lost yesterday to Russia's Dynamo Moscow by a 4-1 score, so I assume they'll come out hungry in today's game.

In the early game today, Energie Karlovy Vary defeated Germany's ERC Ingolstadt by a 5-2 score, evening their record at 1-1.

Good luck in your game against Davos, Team Canada!

At the World Junior Championships in Ottawa, Team Canada squared off against the Czech Republic. It was expected that the Czechs would end up in the middle of the pack at this year's World Junior tournament, so it would be interesting to see how Canada would fare against one of the decent teams in the tournament.

The first thing that should be noted is that Team Canada was wearing a small sticker on the back of their helmets with the initials "LB" on them. Luc Bourdon, who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident this past summer, won two gold medals with Team Canada, and was a key part of the team's defensive unit. No player on Canada will wear #6 as a tribute to Bourdon's contributions to the Under-20 program, and I think that's a classy move by Hockey Canada.

The Canadian squad peppered Czech goalie Tomas Vosvrda with nine shots in the opening 19 minutes, but couldn't solve the athletic goaltender. The Czechs had a few chances in the Canadian end, but Dustin Tokarski stood tall stopping all four shots he faced. With time winding down in the first period, Milan Doczy was whistled for holding at the 19:38 mark, sending Canada to the powerplay.

Canada, in the four pre-tournament games, was lethal on the powerplay, led by John Tavares' four PP goals. Tavares seems to have something for the Czechs because he opened last season's tournament with two goals against them. In keeping with tradition, Tavares struck before the end of the first period with a laser to the back of the net from the slot on a great pass from Jordan Eberle. Canada would enter the break up 1-0.

For those of you who have played hockey, you know how deflating a last-minute goal in a period is. Your lungs and legs are burning, and you're looking forward to getting to the dressing room. The Czechs surrendered that Tavares goal at the 19:56 mark, and it appears that it took any positive momentum directly out of their room.

Canada scored four more goals in the second period - Tavares's second powerplay goal at 2:09; Angelo Esposito on a phenomenal setup from Tavares at 7:08; Ryan Ellis at 8:13; and Tyler Ennis at 13:33. The Ennis goal ended Vosvrda's night as Domink Furch came in to tend the nets. The Czechs had a couple of great chances, most notably Vladimir Ruzicka, but Tokarski turned away all nine shots to stake Canada to a 5-0 lead as they headed into the third period.

Canada continued rolling as Chris Di Domenico, Zach Boychuk, and Alex Pietrangelo put Canada up 8-0 by the 12-minute mark of the third period. Had it not been for Dustin Tokarski's wandering, he would have shutout the Czechs. Instead, he lost sight of the puck during an attempted clear, and Jan Kana broke the shutout.

If there was any question as to Canada's play, it was silenced with slick passing and constant bodychecking. One concern, however, has to be the health of forward Stefan Della Rovere. He left yesterday's game after blocking a shot and was really labouring to get to the bench. There has been no update as to if he is suffering an injury or what kind, but he has today to rest as Canada doesn't play until tomorrow against Kazakhstan.

As a bonus, Team USA looked spectacular as they battled Germany. As I said in my preview on yesterday, "[t]he Americans have to focus on a solid transition game that starts with a good breakout pass", and they got burned a couple of times by the Germans who intercepted a long cross-ice pass and brought it back on an odd-man rush. It only took a period, but the Americans changed their breakout game after it was 2-1, and really started hammering the Germans.

If I'm Jim Rutherford of the Carolina Hurricanes, I'm extremely excited over possibly having both Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman in my lineup next year. Bowman had speed to kill, and his hands are extremely gifted. I was very impressed with his performance on the ice yesterday, and it appears he could be one of the "must-see" players in this tournament.

Jordan Schroeder, the 2009 draft-eligible forward for Team USA, was also impressive. While not a standout as much as Tavares was in the Canada game, the forward from the University of Minnesota has a laser for a shot and could be one of the better finishers at this tournament. If I'm an NHL team with the third or fourth pick, Schroeder would rank high on my list of draftees. He might be small, but he plays bigger than he stands.

Team USA's next game is against the Czech Republic, and they should be able to match Canada's result. The Czechs don't play physical enough, and the Americans are bigger than the Canadians in terms of overall size. After their 8-2 win against the Germans, Team USA has all the confidence in the world going into this game.

Great games to open the tournament. Sweden and Russia both won in Pool B, defeating Finland and Latvia respectively, so all of the elite teams posted a win on their first days. Team Canada is doing well at the Spengler Cup, so all is good on the international scene for Canada!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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