MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – When you’ve enjoyed as much success as Canada has at the world junior championship, it tends to create the perception that winning comes easily.
But veteran coach Pat Quinn isn’t going to let complacency set in with this year’s team. Canada may have victories in both of its exhibition games ahead of the tournament, but it has yet to earn a positive review from the man standing behind the bench.
“We’re not a team yet,” Quinn said after Sunday’s 7-3 win over Finland. “We need some development in those areas. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. But we’ve still got time.
“We will become a team if we get everybody thinking about what they need to do to be a team.”
The only part of the game he enjoyed against Finland was the third period, when Canada scored four times in less than nine minutes to break open what had been a close matchup.
Quinn expressed concern about some of the team’s more skilled players.
“We keep forgetting that these are 18- and 19-year-old kids that don’t know a lot about the game yet,” said Quinn. “They’re individually pretty good but (playing as a team) is the area of the game that really has to come together.
“This country has won four in a row and they’ve done it because they’ve had really good teamwork and they have come together. We’re not there yet.”
Fortunately, Quinn and has coaching staff still have a few more days and one exhibition game to hammer home their message. Canada begins pursuit of its fifth straight gold medal Dec. 26 at Scotiabank Place.
The team is scheduled to pay a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, where the players will no doubt be shown plenty of Team Canada memorabilia and be reminded of the country’s rich history in international events. After playing Slovakia in Hamilton on Tuesday night, the team will fly to Ottawa and land right in the middle of the pressure-cooker.
Until then, players can expect a few more discussions about what it means to represent their country.
“When you’re playing for Canada, we have a certain identity,” said defenceman PK Subban, one of four returning players from last year. “That’s to work hard, get the puck in deep, crash and bang, get the puck to the net – that’s the way we play. And then we utilize our skill.
“You can say that we’ve got a lot of skill but there’s things you’ve got to do first before you can use it. You can’t be using it all over the ice.”
It certainly doesn’t look like the team will have much trouble scoring. Cody Hodgson and Stefan Della Rovere each had a goal and two assists to lead the way for Canada on Sunday.
Tyler Ennis, Brett Sonne, Jamie Benn, Jordan Eberle and John Tavares also added goals while Dustin Tokarski made 14 saves in goal.
Nestori Lahde, Tomi Sallinen and Jesse Jyrkkio replied for Finland.
One thing that concerns Quinn is whether his team is tough enough. Canada lost gritty forward Dana Tyrell to a serious knee injury on Friday and replaced him with more of a skill player in Evander Kane – a move the coach acknowledges does not necessarily address the biggest need at the moment.
“We wanted a Tyrell type of player,” said Quinn. “But we don’t have many in Canada right now that play that way – that can play hockey and have a physical element.”
Tyrell watched Sunday’s game from the press box before travelling home to Airdrie, Alta., for Christmas. He expects to need five months to rehab his knee, which means his season with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars is over.
He’s trying to put on a brave face.
“It’s tough and unfortunate,” said Tyrell. “I’m going to stay positive. I can’t get too down on myself because the way I think will affect my recovery.”
The injury marks a quick reversal of fortune for the 19-year-old forward.
He signed an entry-level contract with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning two weeks ago and was understandably thrilled after being selected to the world junior team.
“I was on such a high but it all came crashing down,” said Tyrell.
The Finns played a much grittier style of game than Canada saw in its exhibition win over Sweden on Friday night. Finland did its best to match the home team physically, resulting in a fairly chippy game that included a few scrums after the whistle.
The Canadian team showed signs of rust early on. They were given two power plays in the first three minutes but didn’t manage a shot on either, needing Tokarski to stop a short-handed 2-on-1 and a breakaway to keep the game scoreless.
“Our top guys went out there and they stood and watched and gave up the chances early,” said Quinn. “If we don’t get a couple saves, it’s a different game.”
Eventually, the tide turned. And the team received a lesson in the process.
“We figured out really fast that if we try and play another country’s game, we’re going to be in trouble really fast,” said Subban.
Notes: Four national team sledge hockey players put on an exhibition during the first intermission … Canada has won a medal in 15 of its last 16 appearances at the world junior tournament … Finland is a two-time gold medallist at the event, with the last coming on home ice in 1998 … The Finnish team is carrying prospect Mikael Granlund, who is just 16 years old.