If Canada becomes the first country in more than 20 years to win the IIHF World Hockey Championship on home soil, the experience from last year’s tournament in Russia will be part of the reason why.
Team Canada has released its first 15 player commitments for next month’s event and it includes seven guys who won a gold medal in Moscow – including captain Shane Doan, tournament MVP Rick Nash and goalie Cam Ward.
General manager Steve Yzerman is also back for a second straight year so there will be no shortage of continuity.
“One thing we all really liked about last year’s group was that the attitude of all the players was tremendous,” Yzerman said Tuesday. “They went a long way from home right after the season and into Moscow – and there were some challenges with logistics there.
“The players, to the best of my knowledge, really enjoyed it and made the best of the situation.”
Eric Staal, Jonathan Toews, Jamal Mayers and Jason Chimera will also be back when Canada opens training camp in Quebec City on April 24.
Last year’s Canadian team ran up a 9-0 record while winning the gold medal.
“We felt it was important to try, in as many cases, for the guys that kind of stepped up and went to Russia for us,” said Yzerman. “They played well with such a good attitude.”
Veterans Martin St. Louis, Steve Staios and Ray Whitney will also play for Canada alongside such younger players as Jay Bouwmeester, Duncan Keith, Derek Roy, Patrick Sharp and goalie Pascal Leclaire.
Nash was the best player on the Canadian team in Russia and will likely play the same role this year. He’s having minor throat surgery on April 14 but expects to be healthy enough to be on top of his game.
He’s played internationally on several occasions and is looking forward to seeing how the world championship will play at home. Nash thinks Halifax and Quebec City will be great hosts.
“They are cities I think are capable of holding NHL franchises and one of them obviously has,” he said. “All the buzz are around the cities is going to be huge.
“This is in our backyard for the first time.”
Yzerman and assistants Luc Robitaille and Doug Armstrong will fill out the roster once the first round of the playoffs is complete.
Ward and Leclaire will likely fight for the starting job in goal, although Yzerman said it was possible the team might add a “high end” goalie if one is eliminated in the first round and willing to play.
Leclaire, who plays for coach Ken Hitchcock in Columbus, is up to the challenge.
“I’m sure me and Cam will push each other,” he said. “It’s going to end up being a coaching decision. I think all we can do is both get ourselves ready to try and help the team as much as we can.”
Nash played on a line with Doan last year and would be happy to do so again.
However, he won’t complain no matter what line he ends up on because there’s several guys he’d love to skate with.
“When you put all these players together it’s unbelievable how much easier the game comes,” said Nash. “I’m sure any player I get a chance to play with will be a lot of fun.”