Team Canada really needs to cut back on penalties
Canada's Darnell Nurse checks Germany's Marc Schmidpeter during the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship on December 27, 2014 at the Bell Centre. (JOHANY JUTRAS/LE JOURNAL DE MONTRÉAL/QMI AGENCY)
If Team Canada players decide to hold a New Year’s Eve parade straight to the penalty box in the manner in which they trotted to the Sin Bin on Saturday night, count on them being burned by Jack Eichel and his friends from south of the border come Wednesday.
The only reason Canada did not pay a steeper price for its undisciplined play in a 4-0 victory at the Bell Centre on Saturday was the fact that their opponents on this night -- as hard working as the Germans might have been -- certainly are not among the most skilled squads at the 2015 world junior.
Taking needless, silly penalties, like they did against the Germans, will be a recipe for disaster versus talented teams such as Finland and the U.S., the next two teams on the schedule. Canada faces Finland Monday before locking horns with Eichel and the Americans on at the Bell Centre two days later.
Power forward Nick Ritchie, for example, is effective when he plays on the edge but there is always the possibility of crossing the line in an event like this -- where the games are called so tightly. That was the case in the first period when Ritchie tumbled over German goalie Kevin Reich, earning an interference minor in the process.
Early in the third period, Anthony Duclair - hardly a dirty player, to say the least - drove a German into the boards from behind, earning a minor and 10-minute misconduct for his temporary brain drain.
Officials at this tournament call games by the book -- sometimes to a fault. For players, as frustrating as that might be, you have to understand that and modify your gameplan accordingly.
“We took some bad penalties,” agreed Canadian coach Benoit Groulx. “You can’t play at this level and spend 14, 16 minutes in the box. You have to adjust to the officiating and I don’t think we did that tonight.”
Going to the penalty box a half dozen times or more against skilled players such as Team USA’s Eichel and Noah Hanifin -- projected to be among the top three picks in the upcoming 2015 NHL draft along with Canada’s Connor McDavid -- could very well come back to bite the hosts in the end.
FOLLOW THE LEADERS
On the positive side, following the blueprint of the Canadian men’s Olympic team is proving to be a shrewd move for the national body’s brain trust.
Instead of filling the third and fourth line with role players like it had done for previous Olympics -- the likes of Rob Zamuner and Brenden Morrow come to mind -- GM Steve Yzerman and his staff opted for skill throughout in the leadup to Sochi. The result was a dominating march to the gold medal, one in which Canada did not lose a game.
That recipe has been used for this version of the national junior team. And while the tournament is still young, nine different Canadian players have scored through two games.
In an 8-0 victory over Slovakia, McDavid was held off the scoresheet. Saturday against Germany, he notched three points.
Such is the depth of skill on this team.
At times in the Germany match, three of the four lines were split up, with only the Max Domi-Sam Reinhart-Duclair unit remaining intact.
“It shows that everyone in this dressing room is interchangeable,” captain Curtis Lazar said.
X’S AND WOES
Defenceman Darnell Nurse continues to impress thus far in this young tournament, delivering a crushing check in the German zone just seconds after the opening faceoff ... Reich, who plays for Green Bay’s “other” team -- the ECHL’s Gamblers -- robbed Domi on a breakaway midway through the first after the Canadian stepped out of the penalty box ... Already up 2-0, Canada was stripped of a third goal courtesy of Lawson Crouse just before the horn sounded for the first intermission when German defenceman Patrick Kurz scooped the puck off the goal line ... Canadian starting goalie Eric Comrie made a great stop late in the second on a breakaway by Marc Michaelis, who was understandably frustrated when he returned to the bench knowing a goal would have sliced the Canuck lead in half at 2-1.
The Germans were plagued by the huge hole left up the middle by the absence of Leon Draisaitl, the third overall pick in the most recent NHL draft. The decision made by the Edmonton Oilers to keep Draisaitl with the parent club stripped the Germans of the kid who easily would have been their most talented player. Draisaitl collected four points in seven games for Germany earlier this year at the senior world championships ... The game was a homecoming of sorts for German coach Pat Cortina, who is a native of the Montreal-area community of St. Leonard ... Comrie is the son of corporate moneybags Bill Comrie, founder of the Brick furniture stores. The family certainly has strong hockey bloodlines, with Eric being the half-brother of former NHLers Mike and Paul Comrie. Mike Comrie, by the way, was cut twice at world junior camp in the 1990s ... Last season’s tournament marked the first time the Germans had not been relegated from this tournament to the “B” pool since 1996 ... Who would win a race between speedsters Domi and his buddy/linemate Anthony Duclair? “He’s pretty quick -- (he’d) burn me for sure,” Domi said. We’re not so sure. Either way, it would be close ... Forward Nic Petan, one of six Winnipeg prospects competing in the event, was asked if he keeps tabs on those other future Jets in the tournament. “Yeah, a little bit. You get a text here and there,” Petan admitted.