This wasn’t supposed to be a team with star power. The cliché mill was in overdrive prior to the World Junior tournament, trying to find some witty adjective to describe the latest edition of Team Canada. The best we could come up with is “lunch pail crew.”
Yep, real creative. About as creative and intellectually stimulating as the average NHL post-game interview, in which players get the right bounces, and effort is given for 60 minutes.
For the record, the lunch pail moniker was used in this space too, making me just as guilty. Seemingly without any elite talent to absorb the annual holiday season hype machine, it was difficult to pin down an identity for Canada. That all changed today.
Brayden Schenn has supplied the star power. With his five points today in a dominating 7-2 win over the Czech Republic (one goal and four assists), Schenn quickly emerged as Canada’s offensive leader.
Schenn was the encouraging development in a game that began sluggishly–as it so often does for Canada–and ended in a game featuring plenty of offensive muscle flexed by the Canadian forwards. But the celebration was dampened as the Canadian infirmary slowly filled up. Defenceman Calvin de Hann left with a leg injury, and forward Jaden Scwartz was hobbled by a lower body injury of his own.
Zack Kassian’s wild ways will leave Canada without a key forward for tomorrow night’s game against Norway. Kassian received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for his hit on Czech defenceman Petr Senkerik.
Senkerik was carried off in a stretcher, which is never pleasant to watch under any circumstances. But the injury shouldn’t determine the punishment, and Kassian initially made contact with his shoulder to Senkerik’s chest, before following through with his elbow.
Kassian built his reputation as a player who’s more than willing to go over the edge when he left his feet to deliver an ugly shot last spring while playing with the Windsor Spitfires, and received a 20-game suspension.
A little more of this, please
With four returnees on the back end, it was assumed the blueline would be Canada’s strength. While captain Ryan Ellis has led a more than reliable group of defenders, Canada’s special teams have been grabbing the momentum lost by the stuttering starts.
First, it was the penalty kill, a unit that’s blossoming into a highly dependable safety net. Casey Cizikas, the penalty killing hero against Russia, took two first period penalties. During the first minor penalty Quinton Howden did his best Cizikas impersonation, hemming the Czechs in their own corner and even producing a scoring chance.
Montreal Canadiens prospect Louis Leblanc performed similar blue-collar work during Cizikas’ second penalty. Leblanc later followed up his determined digging with a shorthanded goal during Kassian’s major.
The penalty killing teed up the other half of Canada’s special teams, and the potent powerplay continued to be Canada’s calling card. With goals by Schenn, Schwartz, Cowan, and Tyson Barrie, Canada’s now has seven powerplay goals in just two games. Throw in Leblanc’s short-handed goal, and Sean Couturier’s goal on a delayed penalty, and special teams have indeed been quite special, and accounted for six of Canada’s seven goals.
A little less of this, please
Falling behind in the opening seconds clearly isn’t a recipe for success in such a short tournament, and it took less than a minute for Canada to be in a hole once again against the Czechs. This time being overzealous wasn’t to blame; instead it was the opposite, as the Canadian defence was caught in a rare moment of relaxation. The result was quick wrister past Olivier Roy by Czech forward Antonin Honejsek.
A steady diet of harnessed aggression needs to be found, while also balancing early game nerves. It’s an act that Team Canada has struggled with in the early stages of past tournaments, but has been promptly corrected.
Random facts about…the Czech Republic
Boring but important vitals
- Population: 10,230,060
- Largest export: Machinery and transportation equipment
- Best eatery and beer drinking location: U Fleku
Most attractive female export
As a nation, the Czech Republic’s ability to produce supermodels is dramatically underrated. Nemcova is the Bundchen of her native land, and she’s worked for Victoria’s Secret while also gracing the cover of the 2004 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Ivanka Trump finishes a close second because of her Czech background, but even our flimsy criteria for celebrity status can’t keep her afloat.
- Czechs lead the world in beer drinking per capita. I know, I nearly fell off my chair and did a face plant when I first stumbled upon this nugget too, thinking surely the Germans, and certainly the Irish would have something to say about this travesty. But no, it really is true, and as of 2008, those proud Czechs fought through a global recession and managed to still drink an average 155 litres of beer per person.
- Maybe I’m just furthering a bad stereotype by assuming Ireland held all alcohol consumption records. If so, accept my apologies, but I’m not alone…
- The first sugar cube was made by Jakob Krystof Rad in Dacice, which is the modern day Czech Republic.
- The Bata Shoe Company was founded in the Czech Republic by Thomas Bata in 1894.