Nugent-Hopkins leads Canada to win
UFA, Russia — The black cape draped over the shoulders of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was a statement about the expectations on Canada’s captain at the world junior hockey championship.
The Canadian coaching staff will hand out the cape after each game of the tournament to the player who distinguishes himself.
A five-point game by Nugent-Hopkins in Canada’s 9-3 win over Germany on Wednesday was more than enough to make him the first recipient.
“You need heroic plays in an event like this,” Canadian head coach Steve Spott explained to reporters following the game. “Game pucks, hard helmets they’ve all been done, but we thought the cape was something unique and embarrasses them a little when they have to come out and face you guys.
“It could be a save or a blocked shot, but I thought tonight it was fitting. He had a great game and is the leader of our club.”
Nugent-Hopkins led Canada with a goal and four assists while showcasing his playmaking abilities, albeit against a country that had virtually no chance of beating the Canadians.
The spotlight is on the Canadian team’s lone NHLer in a season where that league has locked out its players, and thus made the Edmonton Oilers forward available for the competition.
“I think no matter where you go there’s going to be pressure and expectations,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “Being from Canada, there’s a lot of pressure and we’re going to put that pressure on ourselves too and each other.”
Linemates Mark Scheifele scored twice, including a short-handed goal, and Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and two assists.
That trio of players likely would have played in the NHL this season if not for the lockout.
“All three of those players have an NHL mindset and NHL abilities,” Spott said.
Nugent-Hopkins has already played a season for the Oilers. Scheifele is a Winnipeg Jets prospect and Huberdeau is Florida Panthers property.
Ty Rattie, Ryan Strome, Jonathan Drouin and defencemen Xavier Ouellet and Tyler Wotherspoon had the other goals for Canada.
Goaltender Malcolm Subban stopped 25 shots for the win. Spott said the Belleville Bulls netminder will face Slovakia on Friday and indicated Subban will be the No. 1 goalie for the tournament.
“Our plan is to run with Malcolm,” the coach said.
Germany has six Canadian Hockey League players on its roster, including Tobias Rieder, who plays for Spott and with Canadian defenceman Ryan Murphy on the Kitchener Rangers.
Rieder, Leonhard Pfoderl and Nickolas Latta scored for Germany, while Elmar Trautmann made 37 saves before 3,618 fans at the 8,250-seat Ufa Arena.
Spott combined Nugent-Hopkins, Scheifele and Huberdeau for the first skate of selection camp Dec. 11, even though Scheifele is a natural centre converting to right wing for Canada.
Prior to the tournament opener, their game time together was limited to one intra-squad game at selection camp in Calgary and one of two exhibition contests in Finland.
Spott rested the three for two exhibition games against university players at the selection camp. Huberdeau sat out Canada’s pre-tournament game against host Finland last week to serve the final game of a CHL suspension.
“It definitely takes a couple games to get used to your linemates and get the chemistry, but I thought tonight we were working well together,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “It felt like we knew where each other was out there.”
Scheifele said the three players spoke prior to the game about living up to their billing.
“Right after our stretch we all came together and we were like ’You know this is a big game and we’ve got to show our leadership qualities. We’ve got to show we’re a line to be reckoned with,’ ” he said. “I think we definitely did that and we’ve got to build that chemistry more and more.”
Spott is banking on Scheifele settling in on the wing. A powerful top line creates chances for No. 2 centre Strome and wingers Drouin and Brett Ritchie.
“The Strome line could be the subplot of this tournament,” Spott said. “You have to put your best checking line against (the Nugent-Hopkins line) and your top two defencemen because they’re so dynamic. It should open up ice for the players below.”
Canada’s schedule in Pool B is an escalating scale of competition. After Slovakia on Friday, it’s the United States on Sunday and a New Year’s Eve tilt against Russia.
The hosts beat Slovakia 3-2 in overtime in Wednesday’s late game. Canada tops the pool with three points for its win in regulation, while the Russians earned two for the OT victory.
Finland beat Latvia 5-1 and Swedes defeated the Czech Republic 4-1 on opening day in Pool A.
Germany earned promotion to the top-tier world junior tournament by winning the Division 1 event last year. Rieder said the team’s goal is remain in the main tournament for 2014 and not get relegated.
His team was less disappointed with the result and more pleased to score three goals against Canada.
“It’s tough to contain any player on their side, but their first line was really good today with Huberdeau, Scheifele and Nugent-Hopkins,” Rieder said.
“It was pretty special playing against Steve Spott, Canada’s coach,” the Oilers prospect added. “I think we played really well the first period, but the second and third period, you just saw that Team Canada is a better hockey team.”
Canada played without centre Boone Jenner, who served the first game of a three-game suspension assessed on the eve of the tournament for his check on a Swedish player in an exhibition game.
Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads was added to Canada’s lineup just prior to the game. The 17-year-old was initially left off when rosters were submitted Christmas Day after he suffered a charley horse in practice. Spott wanted to leave a spot open on the roster just in case a replacement player was needed.
Notes: Canada improved to 11-0 all-time versus Germany at the tournament. Canada’s record against West Germany prior to that country’s reunification was 11-1. ... Canada’s Mark McNeill and Germany’s Leon Draisaitl are teammates with the Prince Albert Raiders. ... German defenceman Oliver Mebus is six foot nine and 240 pounds.