Nurse to be in Eichel's face when U.S. meets Canada
Defenceman Darnell Nurse watches play during Team Canada's selection camp at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines on December 16, 2014. (Bob Tymczyszyn/St. Catharines Standard/QMI Agency)
Heading into Wednesday’s Border War at The Bell Centre between rivals U.S. and Canada, defenceman Darnell Nurse hopes to star in a New Year’s Eve production of “Me and My Shadow.”
In other words, American star Jack Eichel had best be prepared to see a lot of the rugged Canadian blueliner.
It’s a good bet that part of the assignment of attempting to neutralize Eichel will fall onto the capable shoulders of Nurse, the shutdown defender who has played a significant role in the team’s ability to hold the opposition to just one goal through the first three games at the world junior.
Keeping that in mind, Sun Media asked Nurse what he plans to do to slow Eichel down.
“The biggest thing is to limit the gaps and be in his face for the entire game,” Nurse said after Canada’s 4-1 victory over Finland on Monday night.
He then broke into a wide -- some would call it fiendish -- grin.
“That plays right into the way I play.”
Jack Eichel, meet Darnell Nurse.
“Obviously it’s going to be a great challenge,” Nurse, an Edmonton Oilers first-rounder, said. “You have a lot of respect for a guy like that. But obviously we’re all excited to get up and play that entire team we’ll be playing against.
“We’re capable of getting the right result. It’s just a case of playing to our potential.”
Interestingly, the Americans, like Team Canada, have also only allowed just one goal in this tournament.
“They’re a real strong team,” Nurse said. “It’s going to be a big challenge.”
Heading into Wednesday’s game, the Americans would seem to have more serious issues to worry about than just Connor McDavid.
While the New Year’s Eve tilt is being promoted as the showdown between McDavid and Eichel, Canada’s young superstar has not, by any means, been Canada’s most effective offensive weapon to date.
That honour, for the most part, must go to the line of Max Domi, Sam Reinhart and Anthony Duclair, a trio that accounted for three of Canada’s four goals in the win over Finland.
That being said, don’t expect the 3-0 Americans to lapse into a false sense of security when McDavid steps onto the ice for 3-0 Canada. Far from it.
So says U.S. defenceman Noah Hanifin, the kid projected to go third in next year’s NHL entry draft after McDavid and Eichel.
“Obviously Connor is a really good player,” Hanifin said after Team USA’s 3-0 victory over Slovakia Monday afternoon.
“Just watching him, one of his biggest attributes is his hockey smarts. He’s always two steps ahead of everyone. I think you just have to try to eliminate him from getting the puck and keeping him to the outside.”
Easier said than done, as Hanifin admitted.
“He’s going to make things happen out there no matter what,” Hanifin said.
Given Nurse’s gameplan of “being in (Eichel’s) face,” maybe Team Canada might want to look at the video of how the Slovaks tried to do the same, seemingly goading the American captain into a pair of minor penalties on Monday.
“I think they’re just playing hard,” Eichel said of the Slovaks.
“(But) if guys are targeting me, so be it. I just can’t let them get me off my game. If they’re getting me off my game, then they’re doing their job and I’m not doing mine. “
Give goalie Zach Fucale credit. Those of us who criticized the Team Canada goalie for giving up juicy rebounds in a 2-1 exhibition loss to the Russians less than two weeks ago must do exactly that, given his outstanding play in this tournament. After shutting out the Slovaks in the opener, Fucale finally gave up his first goal of the tournament with less than two minutes remaining in the game on Monday against Finland. Indeed, he has looked extremely steady ... Nick Ritchie also deserves kudos for the way he was crushing Finnish bodies all game long. Sometimes guilty of showing a lack of discipline, he did not cross the line Monday and was one of Canada’s most effective players ... Despite his solid showing, Ritchie was replaced on the McDavid-Curtis Lazar line by Vancouver 2014 first-round draft pick Jake Virtanen, who came to Lazar’s defence late in the game after the Canadian captain absorbed a shot from a Finnish player. “The game was already over at 4-1 at the time, so I had no problem what (Virtanen) did,” Team Canada coach Benoit Groulx said. After being critical of his team’s lack of discipline against Germany on Saturday, Groulx added that he was pleased with his team’s composure against Finland. Of course, whether his players will be able to maintain that trend against the Americans remains to be seen ... Not sure if the Canadians were playing head games, but they did not come out for pre-game warmup until five minutes after the Finnish players had stepped onto the ice.