SASKATOON — The trap Canada doesn’t want to be caught in at the world junior hockey championship is not only the one that Switzerland is likely to set for it in the neutral zone when they meet at the Credit Union Centre today.
A greater danger is in becoming complacent from easy victories, like the 16-0 win with which Canada opened the tournament against Latvia.
“We know that was just one game and we have to continue to play hard,” coach Willie Desjardins said Sunday after putting his squad, minus star left-winger Taylor Hall, through a short but energetic workout. “That’s one reason we kept playing that way (against Latvia) — because we know the games will get tougher.”
The Swiss have been known to steal games with goaltending and defence at world championships and Olympics. And while their junior team is just back after being relegated to the B-pool for a year, they promise tougher opposition than lowly Latvia.
Hall sat out for what he called a “maintenance day” to rest a sore leg but said he will be ready to go for round-robin games on consecutive days against Switzerland and Slovakia.
Like his teammates, Hall was still a little stunned by the one-sided win. Canada led 3-0 only five minutes in, 5-0 after the first period, and 11-0 after two. Grinding winger Gabriel Bourque came out of it leading the tournament with three goals and four assists.
Hall, 18, held to two assists, could not recall beating a team that badly at any level of hockey.
“Those are tough games,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time I was involved in a game like that, but you have to keep playing hard and not get into bad habits.
“You don’t want to run up the score, but at the same time you want to keep going hard and set yourself up for games in the future.”
At last year’s tournament in Ottawa, Canada opened with an 8-1 win over the Czech Republic, then trounced Kazakhstan 15-0. But after going 4-0 in the preliminary round, the Canadians were nearly eliminated in the semifinals by Russia. Only Jordan Eberle’s goal in the dying seconds of regulation time saved the day as Canada won 6-5 and went on to a fifth straight gold medal, beating Sweden 5-1 in the final.
Canada’s lopsided win sparked discussion over whether the world juniors should have a mercy rule — to stop the game if a team goes ahead, say, 7-0 or 8-0. As it is, teams are encouraged to pile up goals because if two teams are tied at the end of the preliminary round, their placings are decided first by the head-to-head result between the two squads, then overall goal differential.
But while Canada was the heavy favourite against Latvia, no one expected quite a blowout. Only days earlier, Latvia had beaten Russia 3-2 in a pre-tournament game in Swift Current.
Against Canada, a goal went in only 36 seconds into the game, then came two quick power-play goals and the rout was on.
“They beat Russia in exhibition, so it’s not like they don’t deserve to be here,” said Hall. “I thought we played really well, and sometimes the other countries may be a bit intimidated by us.
“At the end of the day, we beat them pretty badly, but hopefully they keep improving and in future years they come back with stronger teams.”
Bourque’s line with centre Patrice Cormier and Calgary Hitmen sniper Brandon Kozun were the offensive guns against Latvia. But as the tournament progresses, Hall’s trio with his Windsor Spitfires teammate Greg Nemisz and London Knights centre Kadri is expected to be an offensive engine along with the Eberle, Brayden Schenn, Brandon McMillan line.
Nazem Kadri had two goals, while Nemisz was alone among 13 forwards on the team not to register a point in the game.