Monday, May 05, 2008

Team Canada World Hockey Championships 2008 - The First Test

With all apologies to Slovenia and Latvia, they are both second rate teams, especially compared to Canada. Anze Kopitar played a terrific game for Slovenia, with a breakaway in the third that had the opportunity to bring the game within two goals, and Latvia played with a lot of heart as well. Their number one goaltender, Edgars Masalskis, had a bit of a meltdown early in the second to put the game totally out of reach, but either Canada played a poor 3rd period or Latvia played really well, because they were nearly matching Canada for chances. I suppose it's hard to criticize a team that wins 7-0, but Canada really lost focus in the third period.

Right now the top line for Canada is Dany Heatley, Rick Nash and Ryan Getzlaf, and there is a lot of talk about their amazing chemistry. Heatley has is 4-4-8 +6, Nash is 2-2-4 +4 and Getzlaf is 0-4-4 +5, and for those record keepers out there, Heatley has surpassed Steve Yzerman to gain the all time points lead for Canada in the World Championships with 40pts in 36 games (1 more than Yzerman).

Impressive counting numbers to be sure, but I would love the see the Desjardins numbers for this tournament for quality of competition vs the Heatley-Nash-Getzlaf line. I sincerely hope that they keep even half the pace they're on, but the idea of 'chemistry' against such lesser opponents is a bit suspect. Christ, I couldn't score a goal to save my life, but put me on a line with a couple of my teammates against a bunch of 8 year olds and I would look like I had fantastic 'chemistry.'

Next up for Team Canada is a pretty strong Team USA, and I say that because any team boasting Tim Thomas in net is going to be difficult to beat. I've never really written about Thomas, but he has to be one of the greatest sports comeback stories of all time. You can read the whole story here, but needless to say that making the NHL at 31 and becoming quite the quality goaltender is a singular accomplishment unto itself. The fact that by all reports he is a good guy and is more than willing to play for his country (appearances for Team USA in 95, 96, 98, 05) and I can't help but admire the guy.

The Americans don't have a pushover roster either. I like their defensive group: Keith Ballard, Matt Greene, Tom Gilbert, Paul Martin as well as the youngster James Wisniewski. Up front they boast youngsters Phil Kessel, David Booth, Patrick O'Sullivan, Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Peter Mueller, Jason Pominville (traitor), as well veteran and team Captain Jeff Halpern (who actually finished a +2 on Tampa).

Every team in this tournament has selected one game to wear a heritage jersey of their choice in honour of this being the 100th Anniversary of the IIHF World Hockey Championships, and tomorrow will be wearing the same jerseys worn from 1976-1991 at the Canada Cup, but it's specifically to remember that 1976 team that was famous as much for one great blueliner's last hurrah (Orr) as one great blueliner's coming out party (Potvin). That team is currently holding a reunion in Halifax.

For me, this game will be the best of the tournament. It's still prelim, so there aren't any real consequences to a loss besides positioning for the round robin portion of the tournament. No pressure, just good hockey. Coverage starts at 1:20MST/3:2oEST on TSN.

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