Canada’s captain leads team’s caped crusade
UFA, Russia • There have been other rewards handed out to game day heroes in the past. Pucks? That’s long been a standard. Hard hats? That too has been done before.
So when Steve Spott and his Team Canada staff set out to find a prize befitting their heroes during the 2013 world junior hockey championships, they settled on a black satiny cape embellished with the words “The Reason” as well as a Team Canada logo.
Captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the first to wear it, after his five-point performance in Wednesday’s 9-3 win over Germany. He later signed it, added the date, and hung it in his stall. It will be passed on to the hero of Friday’s game against Slovakia.
“I’ve seen the Jordan Eberle goal as often as anybody. I’ve seen the Jonathan Toews shootouts. You need heroic plays at events like this,” said Spott. “You don’t know when it’s going to come but we thought this might be fitting for after the game.
“This is something we think is unique and it embarrasses them a little bit when they come out and face you guys.
“It’s extra motivation,” he continued. “They need to laugh. These are teenage kids and we forget that sometimes (but) you need someone to be a hero or make a heroic play or lead our hockey club, and not just on offence. It could be a blocked shot, a save, but I thought this was fitting. He had a great game.”
Nugent-Hopkins’ last five-point game was against the Chicago Blackhawks when the Edmonton Oilers centre picked up five assists in a 9-2 win on Nov. 19, 2011.
DROUIN SHAKES OFF LEG WOE
The day before the world juniors opened, Jonathan Drouin left the practice ice with a charley horse, one that was described as mild but was serious enough to leave his inclusion on the tournament roster in doubt.
Drouin, the Halifax Mooseheads rookie, has since settled onto the second line with Ryan Strome and Xavier Ouellet. He scored his first goal of the tournament and picked up an assist in the 9-3 victory over Germany.
“Boy oh boy, he’s a special hockey player,” said Spott. “The thing I like about his game is that he’s responsible in our end and he’s just so dynamic offensively, so he’s everything I was hoping he’d be.”
The medical staff cleared Drouin on the eve of the opener. Hockey Canada had left a spot open on the 23-man roster and added the 17-year-old winger before the tournament got underway.
“The doctors put him through some rigorous exercise and he was doing sprints (so) I felt a lot better going to bed. I knew he was good,” said Spott. “But those are tough. Anyone how has a charley horse knows how painful those can be.”
FOUR IS THE MAGIC NUMBER
The mandate for Team Canada is to keep the penalties to four or less as they make their way through the preliminary round of the tournament.
They racked up four against Germany, all in the first 40 minutes. The next test comes on Friday.
“We went into that third period knowing we had four penalties and we didn’t want to get over that,” said winger Mark Scheifele. “That showed a lot of discipline. Guys were putting their sticks away. Guys were not doing anything to get that fifth penalty.
“It was a good sign. I think everyone knows we have to be disciplined.”
Spott said he doesn’t have a specific punishment in mind for the guilty party who might end up with the fifth infraction, and there might even be some wiggle room there, depending on the circumstances.
“Four or less, that’s our goal. That’s the mandate,” Spott said. “You’re going to take penalties, we know that; it’s the type of penalties.”
GERMAN FAN CLUB
Among those applauding Canada’s start in the tournament was Germany’s Tobias Rieder. The Edmonton Oilers prospect, who is honing his game with the Kitchener Rangers, said he has no doubt Canada has a shot at the gold.
“It was pretty special playing against Canada,” he said on the heels of his team’s 9-3 loss. “We knew it was going to be a game like that. I mean it was good we scored three goals but you don’t play Canada every day so it was pretty special.”
Germany made it to the 10-team pool after winning its relegation tournament. Their goal is more modest than taking home a medal.