Canadians Tame Russian Bear to win 6-3
There's been a lot of question marks raised about this year's edition of Team Canada. In some cases, rightly so and in other cases needlessly so.
There were those who said this year's edition of Team Canada would have trouble scoring. That they lacked a superstar. In the first game, the Canadians went a long way to putting that concern to rest. Six goals by six different Canadian players including defensemen Ryan Ellis and Erik Gudbranson will help the pundits who question Canada's firepower to sleep a little better at night.
Canada's centres led the way. Ryan Johansen and Brayden Schenn were offensive catalysts, Sean Couturier found himself employed in trying to contain Russia's top forwards while Casey Cizikas showed just why he might be considered the best penalty killer in the tournament. Canada's best forward in the game might have been Moose Jaw's Quinton Howden who was a force offensively, defensively and physically even though he registered only one point. Knowing Dave Cameron's style, I anticipate we'll see a lot more of the Oak Bank, Manitoba native as the tournament goes on.
That having been said, if any of the players being leaned on for offence go suddenly cold, Brett Connolly is waiting in the wings. The Prince George Cougar was kept to a handful of shifts yesterday as Team Canada monitored his recovery from a minor pre-tournament injury. If there's a slump or a problem with the effort level, the WHL's best natural goal scorer can ably take over.
On defence, the Canadians experienced more of a mixed bag. Ryan Ellis played a typical Ryan Ellis type game for those who are used to watching his OHL play. He's an offensive wizard, which led to his selection as player of the game. But he also missed a handful of defensive assignments including one that led to the Urychev shot on Russia's first goal.
Canada's best defenseman was Erik Gudbranson. Doing what he does night in and night out in Kingston, Gudbranson controlled his gaps, ran opposing forwards out of race track, drove them into the boards or into the ice and contributed offensively. Points are also awarded to Calvin de Haan who was a quietly reliable defender all night, employing his skating and vision in transition and maybe being Canada's best defender in the neutral zone throughout the game.
Dylan Olsen had a rough game. The Calgary native got into some turnover trouble and was caught up ice on a few ill-timed pinches. Jared Cowen had a mercurial game. At times, he accomplished many of the same things Gudbranson did but at other times, he showed a stunning lack of defensive awareness and lost his assignment against Daniil Sobchenko on the third Russian goal.
In net, it was an uneven affair for the Canadians. Olivier Roy came up with some timely saves but made a lot of very basic mistakes. The Causapscal, Quebec native was having issues with rebound control for most of the game and was committing to the butterfly far too early. For a lot of goaltenders, size mitigates committing early but because Roy is so small, early committal impacts the amount of net he gives up and his ability to recover. On the first two Russian goals, Roy was in the butterfly well before he needed to be.
News today is that Cameron will come back with Roy against the Czech Republic. Putting in a goaltender coming off a shaky performance against a weaker foe is usually a way to build confidence. If Roy exhibits similar issues against the Czech Republic, Cameron can put in Mark Visentin for a warm-up game against Norway on Wednesday before having him face the real test against the Swedes on New Year's Eve.