Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Canadians Preparing for Playoffs
There have been very few surprises thus far at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ottawa. The Canadian squad, perhaps even stronger than first suspected, has romped to victory in its first three games. With one game remaining against the United States, the team will finish the preliminary round and await other results to determine the playoff status.
With a little good fortune, the boys will go directly from the New Year’s Eve game against the Yanks to a playoff semi-final on Saturday.
The Americans had little trouble in their first game against the Germans. Following the game, I spoke with Belleville Bulls’ captain Eric Tangradi. This is Tangradi’s first taste of International Hockey, and he is enjoying the experience. “It’s been great. I thought we played really well as a line.”
He told me that the team had spent some time in Lake Placid and in Kingston before the tournament. “We didn’t get any turkey this year for Christmas dinner. Just lots of pasta!” He is looking forward to the New Year’s Eve game against the Canadians and fellow Belleville Bull P. K. Subban. He did face another Bull in the German game, as goalie Phillipp Grubauer played the third period against the Americans. Tangradi did not have a chance to communicate with Grubauer during the game.
In Canada’s first game against the Czechs, coach Pat Quinn instituted a curious, yet effective power play system. Most Belleville Bull fans know about P. K. Subban’s shot from the point---it is remarkably similar to a howitzer. Coach Quinn moved Subban down towards the net, directly in front of the goalie, poised to blast whenever the puck neared his stick. A chilling thought for anyone who has ever stood between the pipes.
Consequently, only one Canadian defenceman roamed the blueline, from point to point. With a good puck handler in the corner, there were several good options for a play to be made. The puck could go to Subban in the slot, or to John Tavares perched on the edge of the crease. On the second Canadian power play goal against the Czechs, Tavares ripped the puck into the net.
Subban smiled when I asked him about the ploy, adding modestly: “I am more of a decoy out there. Most of the time the puck should go to John. Every goal we score at this tournament is huge.” Perhaps, although in the fifteen goals the Canadians tallied against Kazakhstan, there may have been a couple of unimportant markers!
Subban commented on the flow of the game: “It was great to get those first goals and to get the bodies flying out there.” Coach Quinn chatted with Subban about his role with the team before the game. Subban had been used as a forward in an exhibition game before the tournament. “The coach talked to me about the importance of being ready. He told me how Wendel Clarke had been used in a similar way, and that it was important to step in and play hard whatever the circumstance.”
Quinn had praise for one of his unsung heroes after the game. “The big hit by Cormier really woke up the crowd. Boychuk also set a tone for our team with his physical play. Boychuk played well in the game without the puck.” And in Quinn style he added: “He has a good voice for a young man. He is not negative in his thinking.”
Quinn appeared a little more relaxed than he did a couple of years ago when he coached the blue and white in Toronto. He even took time to express a bit of humour. When asked why he picked up the puck at the end of the game, he quipped: “It’s important nowadays to keep our world green. We should all pick up litter when we can.”
He was also asked about the possibility of moving through the preliminary round too easily, without adversity. “I would rather win without adversity than lose with it. A little doesn’t hurt. But we don’t need a lot of it.”
Certainly, the big test for Quinn’s boys is New Year’s Eve. I am certain Dick Clark won’t mind if you click him off for an hour or two for some good old fashioned shinny. For Auld Lang Syne!
December 30, 2008