Team Canada knocked off Russia 6-3 in their opening game of the 2011 World Junior tournament. Here’s our look at the positive and negative aspects of Canada’s play, along with a little bit of educational fun. Don’t worry, there really isn’t any learning involved.

In a short tournament, it’s the intangibles that separate the podium finishers from the middle tier teams left chasing tails. Those extra hustle plays will grow to be a driving source of character for this lunch pail Canadian team, a team that through one game compensated for its lack of bona fide, big name star power by doing the little things, and doing them really, really well.

In Canada’s opening 6-3 win over Russia, it was captain Ryan Ellis, an experienced returnee on the blueline, who embodied this principle. He promptly asserted himself as the leader on the powerplay, putting his stamp on this game with two well time pinches that led to key goals.

Calling the captain a leader is redundant. Head coach Dave Cameron is familiar with the moxie of Ellis, and gave him the “C” for a reason. He’d be disappointed with anything less.

But as steady and reliable as he was, Ellis finished what others started. Momentum is a delicate, dangerous beast in the early days of a tournament where young legs are often shaky at best. After surrendering a quick early goal, Canada needed to harness the momentum mistress.

Good thing Casey Cizikas knows a thing or two about intangibles.

A little more of this, please

Casey Cizikas is more than just tenacious. He’s always moving, always pestering, and is a slightly undersized forward who will play the Jordin Tootoo role for Canada. Given his stature (5’10″, 190 pounds) his strength is surprising, and Cizikas showcased this stealth attack on one of Canada’s penalty kills just moments into the game.

Cizikas single-handedly hemmed Russia in its own end for more than 15 seconds before heading off to a roar from the crowd. These quick injections of energy from role players like Cizikas will be invaluable during a short, pressure-filled tournament.

Cizikas’ energy brought a much needed change in momentum, but it was the ever steady hand and experience of Ellis that will anchor this team. The captain’s intellect and creativity on the blueline keeps plays alive, and manufactures scoring chances. We saw this when Ellis intentionally shot wide late in the second period, causing a sharp bounce off the end boards that deflected off a skate and into the Russian goal. He is more than just a quarterback for Canada’s powerplay; Ellis is the battery and main power source.

It’s his vision that makes Ellis’ presence so vital, especially on the powerplay. On Ryan Johansen’s go-ahead goal early in the third period, Ellis committed aggressively and pinched to keep the puck in the Russian zone. Seconds later Johansen pounced on a rebound to re-gain Canada’s lead, a crucial goal in what become a high octane, high scoring affair.

A little less of this, please

Historically, Canada has maintained a physical, board-rattling approach in this tournament. And historically, it’s worked, but it’s also led to some trouble along the way. Whether it was Stefan Della Rovere’s over aggressiveness in 2009, Nazem Kadri’s throat slash gesture last year, or Steve Downie being Steve Downie in 2006, Canada’s penchant for physicality has brought home the gold, but with no shortage of nervous moments in the penalty box.

It took only a few minutes for Canada to be reminded of this once more. With Russia controlling the play with its speed, the Canadian defence put muscle ahead of positioning in the first period, stepping up to make the massive hit instead of maintaining defensive zone coverage. The result was Dmitri Orlov absorbing a body blow before dishing off to Yuri Uryachev, whose shot was tipped past Olivier Roy by Maxim Kitsyn for an early lead, and an early statement.

Random facts about…Russia

Win or lose, we’re going to maintain our high standing as a source of cultural education by providing some obscure and absurd facts about Canada’s opponent. That’s right, we’ll be doing some actual research, and by “research” of course I mean scouring Wikipedia.

Boring but important vitals

  • Population: 141, 927,297
  • Largest export: Petroleum
  • Prime night time hotspot: B2

Most attractive female export

Maria Kirilenko

The criteria here is pretty simple. The female in question must be an athlete, musician, or actress who’s even remotely famous. This celebrity status may be stretched to preposterous lengths at times throughout the tournament. We reserve the right to make nonsensical assumptions about the pop culture status of international eye candy.

It’s difficult to pick just one Russian tennis starlet, but Maria Kirilenko wins our prestigious and fictitious award for her country. Anna Kournikova earns bonus points because of her former hockey connection with Sergei Fedorov, but she’s so 2001. It was damn near impossible to kick Maria Sharapova to the curb too, but the 23-year-old Kirilenko is the new girl in town. Sharapova also killed any infatuation potential she has by getting engaged to an NBA scrub.

Fun facts

  • 10% of the Russian government’s income comes from the sale of vodka.
  • It’ll come as no surprise to hear that Russia makes some of most expensive, regularly retailed vodka. The top two are the Stolichnaya Elit and the French Jean-Marc XO, and a 750ml bottle of 90-proof can be yours for about $60.
  • However, it is surprising that Russia isn’t home to the world’s most expensive vodka. That honour belongs to Scotland, the nation that produces Diva, and it has a glamorous title for a reason. The exclusive, custom-ordered vodka is triple-distilled, and then inexplicably passed through a sand of crushed diamonds and gems. The moniker is furthered by having jewelery in the bottle when it’s sold, meaning the price of your Diva drinking depends on how much bling you’d like for your night on the town. Prices can escalate to $1,060,000. Depending on what auction you go to, you might be able to get the original Superman comic for about the same price.
  • There are approximately 10 million more men than women in Russia (score!).
  • The world’s largest bell, the Tsar Kolokol bell, can be found at the Kremlin in Moscow. It’s 20 feet high and weighs 223 tonnes.
  • There were numerous unsubstantiated claims throughout the interwebs that it’s a criminal offence in Russia to drive a car that’s dirty.  This is undoubtedly bogus, but we’re going to go ahead and believe it’s true just for fun, only because it’s entertaining to imagine how such a law would be enforced.