RIGA, Latvia — Kevin Poulin is giving GM Sean Burke and the rest of the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team hierarchy plenty to ponder.
The Montreal native stopped 29 shots to lead Canada to a 2-0 pre-Olympic win over Belarus on Tuesday. Poulin’s performance came after veteran Ben Scrivens of Spruce Grove, Alta., made 27 saves in a 2-0 victory over Lavtia on Sunday.
It was Poulin’s second straight international shutout. He stopped 36 shots as Canada beat Switzerland 3-0 to capture a third straight Spengler Cup title Dec, 31.
“Right now our identity has been our defence and goaltending,” said Burke. “We know we’re not going to be a high-scoring team so we’re going to have to play very competitively, we’re going to have to be hard to play against.
“We’re going to need good goaltending and limit the other team’s chances. Our goaltending had to probably be better these last two games than we’d like it to be … but it sure is nice when we’ve needed it that it’s been there.”
Maxim Lapierre of Brossard, Que., and Andrew Ebbett of Vernon, B.C., had the goals for Canada, which was outshot 24-12 over the final two periods and 29-25 overall. The Canadians finished 0-3 on the power play but did successfully kill off all six of Belarus’s man-advantage opportunities.
“You want to build as much momentum as you can,” said Canadian team forward Brandon Kozun of Calgary. “Obviously there’s a lot of things we can improve upon but a win is a win … we have some time here and we’re trying to build every game and get better.
“The biggest takeaway from two games is we haven’t allowed a goal and that says a lot about our goaltending. The goalies have been outstanding.”
Canada will play its final pre-Olympic game versus Sweden in Incheon, South Korea, on Sunday. The team will open preliminary-round play at the Winter Games on Feb. 15 against Switzerland with a decidedly tough decision to make in goal.
“I’m going to leave that up to the coaching staff,” Burke said. “Obviously I’ll give my opinion when asked.
“I have faith in all three of our goaltenders as Justin Peters is someone we’re very confident in and feel could do the job, that’s why he’s here. But it’s nice when two guys right now are playing well and pushing each other. I think the coaches will agree that gives them a couple of options and that’s always nice to have.”
For the first time since ‘94 there will be no NHL participation in the Olympic men’s hockey tournament. Canada has won gold the last two Winter Games (2010 in Vancouver, 2014 in Sochi) but Russia is considered the favourite this time around with former NHL players Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Nesterov on its roster.
Kozun said that hasn’t changed the Canadian team’s mindset heading into the Games.
“It’s difficult to look that far ahead,” he said. “But everyone has the expectation that we want to go there and win a gold medal.
“If you didn’t have that expectation, I think it would be the wrong way of looking at it. Any time you play for Canada the expectation is to win and we’re going to do our best to do that.”