Ottawa Citizen

Canada’s mo­bile de­fend­ers up for task

Key rests in adapt­ing to larger ice sur­face


UFA, Rus­sia • The de­fen­sive corps was never de­signed to bump and bash its way through games Team Canada plays at the world ju­nior hockey cham­pi­onship — not with the puck-mov­ing de­fence­men who are pop­u­lat­ing the back end.

But as­sis­tant coach An­dre Tourigny, who is again tu­tor­ing Canada’s blue-lin­ers, said his group will be just fine as the tour­na­ment rolls along and the likes of the U.S. and Rus­sia are on the other side of the ice at Ufa Arena.

Tourigny was cer­tain there would be the req­ui­site amount of phys­i­cal play.

“We try to in­sist our group be a bit more phys­i­cal but we se­lected those guys for what they are not what we want them to be,” he said. “We’re com­fort­able with what they can give. They’re not overly phys­i­cal but they’re really tough to beat one-on-one and they’re really good with the puck in tran­si­tion.”

Tourigny said it’s al­most be­come an an­nual rite of pas­sage for his play­ers to emerge from the early days with a much keener sense of what’s re­quired to suc­ceed.

That the tour­na­ment is on a larger in­ter­na­tional ice sur­face has only added to the learn­ing curve for the seven de­fence­men, a group led by re­turn­ing play­ers Scott Har­ring­ton of the Lon­don Knights and Dougie Hamil­ton of the Ni­a­gara IceDogs.

Mor­gan Rielly (Moose Jaw Warriors), Ryan Murphy (Kitch­ener Rangers), Xavier Ouel­let (Blainville-Brois-briand Ar­mada), Grif­fin Rein­hart (Ed­mon­ton Oil Kings) and Tyler Wother­spoon (Port­land Win­ter­hawks) round out the de­fen­sive corps.

“This is my third world ju­nior and ev­ery year you need ad­just­ment on the tough­ness with­out tak­ing penal­ties,” Tourigny con­tin­ued. “We took a lot in the two pre-tour­na­ment games — guys like Har­ring­ton and Hamil­ton when they were try­ing to play a tougher game, a more phys­i­cal game. But it was like that in 2010. It was like that in 2011. You al­ways need that time to ad­just. You need time to fig­ure out what the stick penal­ties will be.”

Hamil­ton said there was def­i­nitely some hes­i­tancy in the open­ing game against Ger­many, given the team man­date to keep the penal­ties at four or un­der but he, too, was cer­tain they’d play a tighter check­ing game as the tour­na­ment rolled along.

“We will have to tighten up when we play the U.S and Rus­sia,” Hamil­ton said, “but with the penal­ties, we’re still not sure what we can do and I think it’s tougher with the big­ger ice.

“Guys can get out of the way eas­ier. It’s not as easy to pin guys ... There’s def­i­nitely more room in the cor­ners and things like that. In Ni­a­gara, you’re ba­si­cally push­ing the guy right against the boards when he’s in the cor­ner.

“Here there’s that ex­tra space so it’s harder to be phys­i­cal that way. We’re just try­ing to fo­cus on that and not take penal­ties.”

“Cana­dian hockey is all about phys­i­cal­ity and get­ting in op­po­nents faces,” Murphy con­curred, “and maybe we got away from that. Mov­ing for­ward we want to get back to that.”

The makeup of the de­fence changed when Ryan Mur­ray had to un­dergo shoul­der surgery. Se­lected sec­ond over­all by the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets in the 2012 draft, Mur­ray was in­jured in Novem­ber in a game with the Everett Sil­ver­tips, putting in mo­tion a dif­fer­ent game plan.

When the team left Cal­gary fol­low­ing the se­lec­tion camp, there wasn’t a de­fin­i­tive shut­down pair in the mix. Hamil­ton, for starters, is now play­ing along­side Har­ring­ton against many of the top lines but he’s also play­ing the point on the power play.

“When you look at teams in the past, maybe you had those two guys who were des­ig­nated (as shut­down guys),” said head coach Steve Spott. “Maybe if Ryan Mur­ray was here, things would be dif­fer­ent but now it’s a group.

“Dougie Hamil­ton is ver­sa­tile and we’re us­ing him both of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively, but Scott Har­ring­ton is really the cap­tain when it comes down to our shut­down group.

“We just need to have more bite in the de­fen­sive zone and that in­cludes our cen­tremen, too, who are gen­er­ally low. Yeah, it’s a con­cern. We have to get to guys quicker. We have to elim­i­nate guys quicker be­cause if you give Euro­pean teams time to cy­cle the puck, you’re go­ing to spend a lot of time in your own end.

“When you look at the ice sur­face we’re play­ing on, you have to be able to shake off a de­fender and throw quick passes and ac­ti­vate into the rush, and we feel the guys we can do that,” Spott con­tin­ued. “That in­cludes Scott Har­ring­ton. He can jump in the play and ac­ti­vate the of­fence, too. Skat­ing, puck move­ment, mo­bil­ity, those are all key fac­tors when we look at those seven guys.”

That bal­ance is what sets this group apart from the group that de­fended Canada’s zone last year said Tourigny.

“If I have to rank one-to-seven ev­ery night, we wouldn’t have a lot of dif­fer­ence,” he said. “With the group I had in 2011, we knew pretty much be­fore the game who would be our best de­fence­man and who would be our sev­enth.”

“What makes our group spe­cial is our abil­ity to move the puck,” said Har­ring­ton. “They’re all big point guys on their club teams but, at the same time, they can play de­fence. That’s all you can ask for, guys who can play that two-way game. We’re all fo­cused on tak­ing care of our own end and giv­ing the puck to our highly skilled for­wards.”

 ?? NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS ?? Head coach Steve Spott, cen­tre, runs his team through drills dur­ing prac­tice on Thurs­day.
NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS Head coach Steve Spott, cen­tre, runs his team through drills dur­ing prac­tice on Thurs­day.

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