OTTAWA – Pat Quinn stepped on the ice for Saturday’s practice ready to be stern and demanding of Canada’s junior hockey team.
But the players didn’t give their coach a chance to furrow his brow and bark because they skated and competed hard.
After a lopsided 8-1 win over the Czech Republic to open the 2009 world junior championship the previous night, Quinn thought perhaps his players might need to be brought to attention.
“When things aren’t going good, when frustrations build up, it’s better to handle people with kid gloves and be complimentary,” Quinn explained. “When things go pretty easy or people have an attitude they’re pretty good, that’s when you can be a little tougher, harder and more critical about their play as a team and an individual.
“I came today prepared to be a tougher guy, but our kids practised well today and that didn’t happen. But for us to get any expectation other than the fact that each darn shift has to be done to the best of our ability, we’d be tricking ourselves.”
Feeling a sense of urgency for an entire game could be difficult for Canada against their next two opponents.
Next to the U.S., the Czechs were expected to be the defending champs’ toughest competition in Pool A. Canada had the game well in hand early in the second period.
Canada plays two games in two days starting Sunday against lightly-regarded Kazakhstan (TSN, 3:30 ET) followed by promoted Germany on Monday.
It’s Wednesday’s game against the Americans where the competition level will rise suddenly. That’s followed by the medal round where a loss knocks a team out of gold-medal contention. Tournament co-favourites Sweden and Russia are in the other pool.
“We’ve heard there are four teams who could win this thing with us being one of them,” Quinn said.
“For us to have the right sort of game when we get to be playing one of these teams, which we will, we’d better pay attention to our game and not worrying about some teams might not have the depth we have.
“We can’t afford to have weak habits get in or overconfidence get in when someone is going to be playing their hearts out and wanting what we want.”
The Canadians intend to use any and all motivation to keep their competitive drive revved against Kazakhstan, who avoided relegation by finishing eighth in the 2008 world junior championship.
Captain Thomas Hickey of the Seattle Thunderbirds intends to remind his troops that Canada actually lost to Kazakhstan in this tournament 11 years ago and finished a worst-ever eighth.
“When your Canada, every team that’s playing you, that’s their biggest game of the tournament,” Hickey said. “With the Kazakhs, that’s going to be their mindset. You go out and play your best against Canada and see what happens.”
Chet Pickard of the Tri-City Americans will get his first start in Canada’s net against the Kazakhs. Dustin Tokarski of the Spokane Chiefs earned the win in the opener.
“I wanted to give both of them one go before we get into the elimination games,” Quinn said. “We’re trying to sort out which guy we might go with.”
While Canada’s road may look smooth for the next few days, Quinn pointed out after the win over the Czechs that his squad has already had its share of adversity.
Eight elite players eligible to play for him in this tournament aren’t here because they’re in the NHL, he said. The club lost 19-year-old forward Dana Tyrell to injury during pre-tournament exhibition games and now winger Stefan Della Rovere is limping.
The Barrie Colts forward suffered a soft tissue injury just above his skate boot in Friday’s game and is questionable for Sunday.
Quinn kept eight defencemen and 12 forwards at the conclusion of selection camp, so defenceman P.K. Subban moved up alongside centre Patrice Cormier and 17-year-old winger Evander Kane, who was Tyrell’s replacement, in Saturday’s skate.
Subban, a Montreal Canadiens draft pick, played a few shifts at forward during Canada’s exhibition games and says he’s getting the hang of it.
“I kind of understand where I should be on the ice,” Subban said. “I haven’t played it in awhile.
“Obviously Pat Quinn has shown a lot of confidence in me, showing that I’m pretty versatile and can go up on forward and play. If the team needs me to play there I’ll play there.”
Added Quinn: “He is our backup if we have to go that way.”
Saturday’s practice at Scotiabank Place was open to the public. About 400 people braved wet and slick conditions to get to the rink and they were rewarded with an entertaining breakaway drill to conclude practice.
Notes: Canada is 1-1 versus Kazakhstan all-time at the world junior tournament. After losing 6-3 in 1998, Canada’s revenge was a 12-2 thumping the following year in Winnipeg. … The average age of Canada’s roster is 19 years and 11 days, which puts it among the 10 youngest teams in the last 27 years. Canada’s average height is six feet and a half inch and weight is 193 pounds.