BUFFALO, N.Y. — They’ve suffered their first setback at the world junior hockey championship and now the Canadians must play a quarter-final game against Switzerland, the team they beat 8-0 in an exhibition game only two weeks ago.
But coach Dave Cameron’s word to his players was: Don’t get down about losing their final round robin game 6-5 in a shootout to Sweden, and don’t take the Swiss lightly.
“Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t look at anything on paper. Focus on how we have to play,“ was how Cameron put it as he met with the media at the team’s downtown hotel Saturday.
Canada, which finished second in Pool B, faces Switzerland today (TSN, 1:30 p.m.) as single-game knockout play begins in the 10-team tournament. The winner advances to a semifinal against the host United States.
On paper, it should be an easy win for Canada, but Swiss teams are known for pulling off upsets over major powers in recent years — including their men’s Olympic squad’s shutout win over Canada at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy.
At last year’s world juniors in Saskatoon, they were trailing Russia 2-1 in a quarter-final when Nino Niederreiter tied it in the final minute and then scored in overtime to put the Swiss into the semifinals, where they were trounced 6-1 by Canada.
Niederreiter was the sensation of that tournament with 10 points in six games. The Portland Winterhawks forward, drafted fifth overall by the New York Islanders in June, has only two goals and an assist in four games this time around but may still have a big game in him waiting to break out.
“I’ve never beaten Canada and this is our chance,” Niederreiter said after the Swiss lost their final round robin game 2-1 to the host United States. “It shows we can beat the bigger teams, but Canada is a huge opponent and the crowd will be on their side. We’ll see what happens.”
Added Cameron: “We watched them play against the U.S. and it was a heck of a game. They could have just as easily have won 2-1 as lost.”
“They work extremely hard. There’s no quit in them,” he continued. “It seems like every year in this tournament there’s a Cinderella team and maybe they’re starting to climb toward that status, which I think they had last year in Saskatoon, too. So it’s game on. There are no easy games from now on in.”
Canada cruised through wins over Russia, the Czech Republic and Norway to open the tournament and set up a showdown with the gifted Swedes for first place in the group.
It turned into a wake-up call for Canada, which was outplayed for much of the game and kept it close mainly due to a lucky goal on a funny bounce off the glass and a brutal goal on a long shot allowed by Sweden’s Robin Lehner.
At the other end, Canadian goalie Olivier Roy made some fine saves among the 42 shots he faced, but also was caught going down early on two goals. That raised speculation that backup Mark Visentin, whose only start thus far was in an easy 10-1 win over Norway, may get the call.
Cameron said a decision on which goalie will start had yet to be made.
It will help that the team will have rugged forward Zack Kassian back after serving his two-game suspension for a hit to the head of a Czech player. Kassian brings not only an intimidating presence around the net, but he is also a key member of the first power play unit.
“He’s a big, strong forward down low with a physical presence and it gives us depth,” said Cameron. “It allows us to roll four lines, so we don’t have to double shift guys to get our four-line rotation going.”
The Swedes were the quicker and more skilled team and looked to have a suspect Canadian defence reeling as they swarmed the attacking zone, but Cameron feels it was a second period letdown that caused the game to slip away.
“I thought the speed of the game caused a little flatfoot last night, especially in the second period,” he said. “We backed off too much in the second period.
“We had made a little adjustment on our forecheck going into the Swedish game and I think it might have handicapped us a bit in terms of thinking too much. Sometimes that split-second against a good team is enough to put you back on your heels a bit. So I thought we started well in the first, but we struggled in the second in terms of chasing, backing up.”
He said the team fixed that by playing with more energy in the third.
“Your play in the neutral zone is going to determine if you’re on offence or defence,” Cameron added. “If you’re not good in the neutral zone you’re on defence and to me that’s negative energy.
“That’s bad karma. You never see guys get exhausted in the offensive zone.”
Russia plays Finland in the other quarter-final on Sunday night, with the winner advancing to face Sweden.