MINSK, Belarus — Name tags aren’t required around Team Canada’s locker room at the world hockey championship. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
“We just got together a week ago,” winger Joel Ward said. “I barely know some of the trainers’ names, to be honest.”
That would be Mike Burnstein from the Vancouver Canucks and Gerry Townend and Shawn Markwick from the Ottawa Senators.
But more to Ward’s point is Canada’s on-ice chemistry remains a work in progress after just two tournament games.
“That’s the challenge, I think, every year with this tournament for the North American teams,” goaltender Ben Scrivens said. “Obviously I’ve watched before and that seems to be the running commentary is how quickly teams can gel in, it seems like, every international tournament.”
This tournament in particular is a challenge for Canada, given that this roster is made up of 19 players whose NHL teams missed the playoffs and four who went seven games in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Through the shootout loss to France in the opener and Saturday night’s victory over Slovakia, coach Dave Tippett can notice the difference between those who had been playing and those who experienced a long layoff.
Participating in playoff games helped Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, Braydon Coburn and Nathan MacKinnon have a little more energy in their legs.
But throwing them into the mix with players who had been off for a few weeks made for some uncertainty out of the gate.
“That first game we were a little unsure going into the game exactly how we were going to come together as a team, how things were going to transpire,” winger Troy Brouwer said.
Team Canada wasn’t yet a team, something that showed in disjointed play and passes being off the mark. Even early on against Slovakia there was hesitation about where players were going.
Consider it a feeling-out process.
“It’s a team game, and sometimes it takes a while to get your team game together,” Coburn said Sunday after an optional practice. “As the tournament goes on, it’s natural for chemistry to build and for our team to keep getting stronger.”
On the power play, especially, where Canada is 2-for-8, Tippett hopes more repetitions in games and morning skates will help build more rhythm.
At even-strength, it’s a shift-by-shift learning process. Tippett changed his forward lines against Slovakia and could do so again before Canada faces the Czech Republic on Monday night.
Players are prepared for that.
“Obviously at this tournament it’s going to happen all the time and things are going to change,” Schenn said. “The quicker we can get chemistry and guys can find chemistry with each other, that’s when we’re going to be good.”
Chemistry is well on its way off the ice. Even though there are some teammates here, Schenn said the group is hanging out together here and getting to know each other.
“You come here and meet guys, guys you obviously know them from playing on the ice, but it’s good to get to know guys’ personalities,” he said. “There’s a good mix and young guys and old guys that are bonding well and having fun and that’s what this tournament is all about.”
But before playing the first contest, captain Kevin Bieksa made it clear this tournament is also about winning games. Tippett called the 4-1 victory over Slovakia a “step forward” for his team and a much better effort than against France.
Part of the progression is not just between teammates but how Canadian players adapt to the wider ice surface with smaller offensive and defensive zones. Tippett knows it will take some time to figure out the European style, but Coburn — who is playing in his second world championships — isn’t worried about that.
“It’s different,” Coburn said. “It’s something you’re obviously aware of right away and you feel when you get out there.
“But it’s a lot of fun, it’s different, it’s a challenge. There’s a lot more ice out there and a lot more room to skate. We got a lot of guys in here that can wheel, so that’s a good thing for us.”
A lot is different than the NHL, something Scrivens hopes is aided by having several teammates here. Bieksa, Alex Burrows and Jason Garrison are here from the Canucks, James Reimer, Morgan Rielly and Nazem Kadri from the Maple Leafs, Jonathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson from the Panthers, Brouwer, Ward and Jason Chimera from the Capitals and Read, Schenn and Coburn from the Flyers.
“Hopefully … we can use that little bit of chemistry to jump-start the rest,” Scrivens said. “But there’s no excuses, we’ve just got to go out there and get the job done.”