Team Canada has plenty of tournament time to prove they can light the lamp.
Last night’s exhibition tilt against Team Finland at the Saddledome was all about sending a message with their shoulders — and maybe the occasional elbow, too.
The result was a bunch of battle-weary Finns not keen on carrying the puck any further than absolutely necessary. Oh yeah, and a 3-0 victory for the feisty Canucks.
“We’re always like that. Canada is always a hitting team and whether or not we get hit back, we’re still going to keep coming for it and we’re never going to lay off,” said rugged winger Stefan Della Rovere.
“The more we hit, I think the more we’ll intimidate the other team.
“There’s more to come with the hits.”
Alex Pietrangelo, Taylor Hall and Brandon McMillan each bulged the twine for the hosts last night, while Jordan Eberle had a pair of assists and Brandon Kozun, Brayden Schenn and Marco Scandella each registered a helper.
But Willie Desjardins’ squad did the majority of their damage in the corners.
The Canadians are shooting for a record sixth consecutive gold at the world junior tournament, which starts on Boxing Day in Saskatoon and Regina, and if their showing at the Saddledome is any indication, they’re willing to run around like schoolyard bullies in an effort to grab a slice of history.
They certainly didn’t waste any time implementing the gameplan last night, much to the delight of the 10,756 spectators in attendance.
Just a dozen seconds after the opening faceoff, offensive whiz Nazem Kadri steamrolled Finnish forward Mikael Granlund in enemy territory, earning a two-minute trip to the penalty box for charging.
That sparked a hit parade.
McMillan left Kristian Kakyva sprawling on the ice behind Finland’s net. Talented Toni Rajala, seemingly mesmerized by the arc of an air-borne puck, was pasted by Della Rovere.
Captain Patrice Cormier banged too many bodies to list on a single page.
“That’s our job — to be physical as a team,” Cormier said. “With guys like Kadri getting into it, I think that gets the whole team going.
“One thing for us is we want everyone to buy into our system and buy into what we want guys to do. I think every single guy out there is buying in and doing his job.”
Although Calgary Flames prospect Joni Ortio stood his ground between the pipes, the Finns struggled to generate many offensive opportunities at even-strength, thanks in part to the forced habit of avoiding high-traffic areas like claustrophobes avoid Boxing Day blowouts. The Canadians were assessed 10 minor penalties, but the Finns couldn’t cash in.
Even the game-winning goal was the result of some physical play by Canada’s top teens.
In the moments before Pietrangelo, the lanky blueliner on loan from the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, roofed a slapshot over Ortio’s shoulder to give Team Canada the 1-0 lead, Eberle and McMillan buzzed around the offensive zone like bowling balls, creating all sorts of havoc.
Kozun, who has set off countless goal celebrations at the Saddledome in three seasons with the WHL’s Hitmen, cooked up Canada’s second marker, knocking down a loose puck and sending a seeing-eye pass to Hall, who kicked the disc to his stick and buried it in a yawning cage.
McMillan added the exclamation point with just over five minutes remaining in the third period, racing in on a breakaway and deking to his backhand for a goal that’s certain to be found on the highlight loop this morning.
Martin Jones, the other Hitmen representative on the team, made 17 stops for the shutout, although the Finns had a goal waved off in the third period. Ortio made 21 stops for the visitors.
Team Canada won’t have much time to heal their bumps and bruises. They’ll hit the ice tonight in Regina to face the Czech Republic in their final exhibition tuneup.