Owning the Bear
Well of course Canada beat the Russians to open the world junior hockey championships.
It's been that way for a while now.
Not since the gold medal game in Halifax back in 2003 has Russia defeated Canada in this event, and after finishing sixth and losing a quarterfinal game to the Swiss last year in Saskatoon, it wasn't clear how good a team the Russians would bring this year.
Well, average, at best, it would appear.
They were 3-3 with Canada going into the third Sunday night and might have been ahead if not for some curious officiating - could Louis Leblanc have been more guilty of goalie interference on the opening Canadian goal? - and that chronic propensity to try and pass the puck into the net, something that never works well on North American ice surfaces.
But then the Canadians finished off their opponent strongly, putting three behind wobbly London Knights goalie Igor Bobkov, to start the 2011 tourney off in style with a 6-3 triumph. It was a spotty Canadian performance at times, not unexpected for a team still figuring out roles and getting comfortable with one another, a team that in in its opening game had to faced an opponent playing a very different style.
Which, as we've mentioned before, rarely works well on smaller North American ice. Once more, we plead with the IIHF that if this is going to be a tourney that is all about a maximum money grab, which will mean playing it in Canada or near the Canadian border most of the time, the least that must be done is to insist that the games be played on the larger European ice surface. That is the rink, after all, upon which the majority of the world's hockey playing countries play.
Otherwise, and particularly if this becomes a Canada-U.S. affair again this year, the world juniors is in danger of becoming a Jr. Canada Cup. Playing on small ice is a huge advantage for the North Americans, particularly in a short tournament.
For Canada, the good parts were an impressive power play, good physical play that wore the Russians down and effective balance among four forward lines. On the negative side, the blueline corps struggled at times and made some poor decisions, and it's not clear at all if Jared Cowan is up to the role he's been assigned, which is to be the shutdown ace of the Canadian defence. But he's got three more preliminary games to prove himself.
Speed and skill, as expected, were not major parts of the Canadian game. Then again, it's early, the kids were obviously nervous and Dave Cameron is still trying to find out which players work best together.
Discipline was fine, and goalie Olivier Roy was fine, not tested as much as Bobkov but still tested. If there is an identifiable strength to this Canadian team it is down the middle where Brayden Schenn, Ryan Johanssen, Sean Couturier and Casey Cizikas comprise a group that has size and lots of industriousness.
Three more games this week - first the Czechs, then Norway, then Sweden on New Year's Eve - will tell us more about them. And this very interesting team.