BUFFALO, N.Y. — To have forward Jaden Schwartz hobbling through HSBC Arena on crutches Thursday was not a reassuring sight for Canada’s team on the eve of its most difficult challenge yet at the world junior hockey championship.
But Canada will have to make do without the stocky first-line winger from Wilcox, Sask., for their showdown with Sweden today (TSN, 2 p.m.) and for the rest of the tournament due to a fractured left ankle.
“It’s tough because he worked hard to get here,” said team captain Ryan Ellis. “Now we’ve had a day to regroup and we have to move on. It’s tough when a teammate goes down but we’ve got some big things coming up. The Sweden game is going to be a tough test for us and we have to switch our mindset to that.”
They will also need to juggle their lineup to replace Schwartz on their best scoring line and on the point of their first power-play unit.
Canada will also be missing rugged winger Zack Kassian, who will serve the second half of the two-game suspension he was assessed for a hit to the head in a 7-2 win over the Czech Republic on Tuesday. But the team should have defenceman Calvin de Haan and forward Cody Eakin back after each missed a game with an injury.
Quinton Howden was in Schwartz’s spot alongside red-hot centre Brayden Schenn and Ryan Johansen as the team held a short but crisp practice at Buffalo State College. Schwartz was the only player not on the ice.
Canada had a relatively easy ride while winning its first three games by a combined 23-6 score over Russia, the Czech Republic and Norway. But now the Canadians face a team unlikely to buckle under to their heavy-hitting style and that will answer back with a hard forecheck of their own.
Also, they should be up against a solid goaltender for the first time in this tournament with Ottawa Senators prospect Robin Lehner expected to start for Sweden. That should gave Canada an indication whether the cascade of goals in the first three games was a true indication of the team’s scoring prowess.
And Sweden will test a Canadian defence that has looked vulnerable at times.
“Tit for tat,” was how coach Dave Cameron described his approach to the game. “We expect to be big, physical and fast too.
“It’s two good teams that are going to go at one another.”
Olivier Roy will start in goal after giving up his spot to Mark Visentin for one game.
With Sweden’s victory over the Czechs on Thursday, both teams are 3-0 and the matchup will determine first place in their preliminary round group, a position that comes with a bye to the semifinals on Monday.
Canada beat Sweden 4-1 in an exhibition game last week in Toronto that was closer than the score would indicate.
The Canadians were short four skaters as they breezed through lowly Norway 10-1 on Wednesday night, when Schenn had his second straight five-point game to give him six goals and six assists to lead the tournament.
For that game, they didn’t miss Schwartz, who was hurt when a Czech player rolled on him in the first period against the Czechs. The Colorado College forward kept playing and even scored a power-play goal, but the injury was too much to bear.
“It was a dream come true to make this team and to not be able to play in it is tough” said Schwartz, who will have a cast put on the foot and will stay in Buffalo to cheer his teammates on. “It’s unfortunate timing but sitting here feeling sorry for myself won’t do any good.
“I’ll be here to support the guys. There’s people in the world going through worse things than I am so I’ll keep that in the back of my mind.”
It was a clear reference to his sister Mandi, a Yale University hockey star who has battled leukemia for two years.
Only two days after Schwartz learned he had made Canada’s world junior team, news came that Mandi had suffered a relapse despite undergoing a stem-cell transplant in September.
“It changes your perspective on life when someone that important in your life gets cancer,” he said. ”You realize what’s most important. Family and health are the most important things in life.
“I wanted to be here, but more than anything I know my family wanted me to be here, especially my sister. My family’s going to have to switch their plans around. They might come for the Sweden game but they’ll probably go back to Mandi and spend their time with her. There’s a lot of emotions. It is a tough time.”
Schwartz, a five-foot-10, 182-pound forward, is a rookie at Colorado College. He has recorded 11 goals and 15 assists in 17 games but now will be out of action for six weeks.
Schwartz was selected in the first round, 14th overall, of this year’s NHL entry draft by the St. Louis Blues.
”In my profession you meet a lot of good people and every now and then you meet an extraordinary kid,” Cameron said. “He’s one of them and he’ll be missed big time.”