PRAGUE, Czech Republic — After some travel headaches and exhibition wins over Germany and the Czech Republic, Canada kicks off the world under-18 hockey championship Thursday against Denmark.
“We’ve got two games under our belt,” said head coach Jesse Wallin of the Red Deer Rebels, who will try to lead Canada back to a medal at a competition where they’ve been shut out for three years running.
“The first game was our first game together as a group. It was the day after we got here.
“In my experience that game has always been a little bit sloppy and this one was no different.”
Wallin is joined on the Canadian squad by Rebels defenceman Mathew Dumba, who is the team captain.
Canada emerged with a 5-3 win over Germany but flight change brought the team in later than expected.
“The first game you feel like you’re good for maybe the first five or 10 minutes and then ‘wow,”’ said forward Brendan Gaunce of the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bolts.
Wallin says the second game, a 5-4 win in overtime against the Czechs, was more focused, at least until later in the second period.
“We had a 4-1 lead in the second period,” he said. “We were playing really well. We had a real good start to the game and were really pushing, and then we scored the fourth goal just kind of a quarter of the way through the second period and I thought from there we kind of let off the gas.”
Wallin attributed it to the learning curve for a bunch of kids who haven’t played together.
“I think that’s the part of becoming a team. It’s just learning that relentless mentality we want to have where we just keep pushing and keep pushing, we keep doing what we do shift after shift.”
Gaunce added: “The first couple of days it was definitely tough adjusting … but I think everyone is back into a relaxed mode and just ready to play hockey.”
Overall, Wallin has liked what he has seen so far.
“We’ve got a pretty good mix. I think we’re a nuts and bolts team,” he said. “We’ve got some good size up front. And, really, we’ve got some good skating defencemen in the back end, kids like (Mathew) Dumba and (Josh) Morrissey, those guys can really move their feet and are very mobile.
“(Adam) Pelech has been a real good defenceman for us. He’s just a real steady solid guy. He gives us a real good shutdown type of guy back there.”
At six-foot-two, 212 pounds, Gaunce is one of players Canada is expected to lean on as it tries to win a medal at the tournament for the first time since taking gold in 2008. The team lost last year’s bronze-medal game to Russia.
The roster includes 10 players from the OHL, seven from the Western Hockey League and three from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Six players helped Canada’s under-18 team capture the gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in August in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, while 10 took part in the 2011 world under-17 hockey challenge in Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie, Man.