MANNHEIM, Germany – Canada managed to win one game without captain Ryan Smyth at the IIHF World Hockey Championship. Now a young team has to focus on winning a gold medal for him.
News that the man known as Captain Canada would be sidelined for the remainder of the tournament quickly overshadowed the team’s 6-1 win over Latvia on Monday.
When Smyth rolled his ankle in Sunday’s practice and missed the morning skate, it was thought he’d probably sit out a game or two. However, an MRI revealed a fracture in his left ankle that will require four to six weeks of recovery.
Many of Smyth’s teammates didn’t find out about the severity of his injury until after the win over Latvia.
“He’s going to be missed but there’s guys in that room that can step up and fill his role,” said forward Corey Perry, who had three assists in the game. “There’s guys waiting to play the minutes he was playing. We’ve got to be ready to play for him.”
Coach Craig MacTavish indicated that a new captain would likely be named. One of the team’s four alternates would make the most sense: Perry, Ray Whitney, Steven Stamkos or Francois Beauchemin.
Of greater concern to general manager Mark Messier is how he should go about trying to bolster a roster that now features just two players over the age of 28 (Whitney and goaltender Chris Mason). The team will have to play Wednesday’s game against Switzerland with the 11 forwards and eight defencemen it currently has, but Messier will have to option to add two more skaters after that.
There is no one who can fully replace Smyth, who has played more international games than any active Canadian player and already owns two previous world championship gold medals?not to mention the Olympic gold he has from Salt Lake City in 2002.
The 34-year-old will make his way home to Los Angeles on Wednesday and hopes to slip away without causing much distraction for the team.
“I don’t want to disrupt anything,” said Smyth. “It’s a great team in there. … The only message obviously is to win the gold. It’s game by game, getting better as a team.
“I saw a lot of that from the last game to tonight.”
With Smyth out of the lineup, the Canadian team got some direction from John Tavares, Mark Giordano and a red-hot power play.
Tavares and Giordano scored two power-play goals apiece and Canada went 5-for-6 overall with the man advantage. A key to that success was the decision by assistant coach Peter DeBoer to pair Tavares up with Perry and Stamkos on the first unit.
“(Tavares) was real dangerous with the puck, not only goal-scoring but making plays,” said MacTavish. “We’ve got a mobile defence that can really move the puck. They were doing lots of that and it made it difficult for the Latvians to apply a lot of pressure.”
Stamkos and Steve Downie also scored for Canada, which got 23 saves from Mason and Chad Johnson.
With the game well in hand, MacTavish sent Johnson in for the third period. It was the first ever national team appearance for the 23-year-old from Calgary, who was beaten by Georgijs Pujacs at 10:25 to lose Canada’s shutout bid.
He came off the ice beaming.
“It was exciting,” said Johnson. “The biggest honour is to represent your country and it’s been a dream of mine to wear the Canada jersey. To actually get in a game is pretty special.”
Those are words that would bring a smile to Smyth’s face.
Even though this particular team has only been in Europe for a little over a week, the players got to see Smyth’s enthusiasm for international play first-hand. It rubbed off.
“That’s a big loss for us,” said Mason. “He’s often referred to as Captain Canada for a reason. The amount of pride and leadership he’s shown in a short time here?we’re definitely going to miss that.”
The most disappointing thing for Smyth was that he suffered the injury in practice. He rolled his ankle while stopping during a drill and was able to complete the skate with some discomfort.
The 34-year-old certainly never imagined it would force him to head home.
“I thought it was just a minor sprain or something,” said Smyth.
With a lot of big games still to be played atthis championship, the team is going to have to find a way to go on without him.
“He definitely leaves a void in the locker-room,” said MacTavish. “But the group’s young and enthusiastic and hopefully we’ll be able to offset that.”