Ottawa Citizen

THEY’RE NO. 1 WITH A BUL­LET

Top ju­nior line on fire in opener

- JOANNE IRE­LAND UFA, Rus­sia Sports · Canadian National Men's Hockey Team · Germany · Slovakia · Florida · St. John's · National Hockey League · Ted Nugent · Edmonton Oilers · Edmonton · Finland · Sweden · Tampa Bay Lightning · Tampa · NHL Hockey · Ice Hockey · Ryan Nugent-Hopkins · Florida Panthers · Saint John Sea Dogs · Winnipeg Jets · Steve Yzerman · Ryan Strome · Strome

• On pa­per, the trio looked ter­rific. The slick Ryan Nu­gent-Hop­kins flanked by Mark Scheifele and Jonathan Hu­berdeau. What team wouldn’t want to un­leash that of­fen­sive po­ten­tial?

But in or­der for Team Canada’s plan to work, Scheifele had to be able to make the tran­si­tion from cen­tre to right wing, and the three tal­ents had to de­velop some chem­istry.

So far, so good. The trio de­liv­ered on open­ing day, com­bin­ing for four of Canada’s goals in a 9-3 vic­tory over Ger­many, and they will be the line to watch on Fri­day against Slo­vakia. It is their mis­sion to dom­i­nate.

“That’s what we wanted, we wanted to come to­gether as a great line from the first game and I think that’s what we did,” said Hu­berdeau, who would surely be play­ing with the Florida Pan­thers and not the Saint John Sea Dogs were it not for the NHL lock­out.

In fact the top line wouldn’t have even be an op­tion had the NHL been in ac­tion with Nu­gent-Hop­kins play­ing for the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers and Scheifele play­ing with the Win­nipeg Jets.

“It’s some­thing you hope for when you put a line to­gether like that. All three of those play­ers are in an NHL mind­set, all three have NHL abil­i­ties,” said Spott. “The chal­lenge was Mark Scheifele and how he would ad­just to the wing.

“It still is a con­cern. You hope that Mark can con­tinue to play there be­cause he’s such a tremen­dous cen­tre­man.”

The three were quiet in a warm-up tour­na­ment as was the team, which scored just three reg­u­la­tion goals in games against Fin­land and Swe­den. Nu­gent-Hop­kins said there were signs of progress in the 2-1 shootout win over the Swedes and then it clicked early against Ger­many.

Steve Yz­er­man, the Tampa Bay Light­ning gen­eral man­ager who has over­seen Canada’s Olympic en­tries, was in Fin­land dur­ing the tour­na­ment and not only ad­dressed the team but also sec­onded the plan to give the top line a chance.

“Steve said it best,” said Spott. “What it does is al­lows us to open up things for the likes of Ryan Strome and Boone Jen­ner (who is sus­pended and will join the team in the fourth game) and the Mark McNeills be­cause teams have to put out their best check­ing line and their top two de­fence­men. They’re just so dy­namic so it should open up ice for the play­ers be­low them.

“I think the Strome line could be the sub­plot of this tour­na­ment.”

In the mean­time, the top line has ev­ery in­ten­tion of cre­at­ing some havoc. Hu­berdeau said he couldn’t re­mem­ber the last time he played on a line with so much po­ten­tial but he said it’s been easy to play with Nu­gent-Hop­kins and Scheifele.

“I just pass the puck and I know I’m go­ing to get it back,” he said. “We have good chem­istry and we just have to keep go­ing against Slo­vakia.

“We’re just go­ing to keep work­ing harder.

“Of course it’s pos­si­ble (to not have chem­istry). Maybe we got lucky. We don’t know. Hopefully not. That’s why we’re go­ing to keep work­ing hard. We had a pretty good first game and that’s what we wanted. Now we have to keep go­ing.

“We are a line that can pro­vide a lot of of­fence and that’s what we want to do but we have to keep go­ing and keep get­ting bet­ter.”

He got no ar­gu­ment from Scheifele, who said the move to the wing has been that much eas­ier given that Nu­gent-Hop­kins is play­ing in the mid­dle.

“He moves the puck so well. All I’m try­ing to do is get open, find those open spots. If I do, I know he’s go­ing to find me. Same with Hu­bie,” said Scheifele. “They’re both un­be­liev­able play­ers and I just want to com­pli­ment them.

“It’s a short tour­na­ment and it’s who­ever comes to­gether the quick­est that is go­ing to be the team that’s go­ing to win. We need to build off that game.

“We had talked to each other about get­ting off to a good start in this tour­na­ment and I think we did (but) we have a lot of games left and we have to keep de­vel­op­ing our chem­istry. “We just want to con­tinue to dom­i­nate and get bet­ter and bet­ter each day.”

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 ?? NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS ?? Team Canada for­ward Mark Scheifele puts one of his two goals past Ger­man goal­tender El­mar Traut­mann in Canada’s 9-3 win Wed­nes­day.
NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS Team Canada for­ward Mark Scheifele puts one of his two goals past Ger­man goal­tender El­mar Traut­mann in Canada’s 9-3 win Wed­nes­day.

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