MINSK, Belarus – Kevin Bieksa isn’t one to lie down on the job.
Lying down on the ice for pre-practice stretching is OK, though. In leading his first pre-world championships practice Thursday as Team Canada’s captain, Bieksa had his teammates do snow angels before getting to work.
“That’s who he is, that’s what he does,” coach Dave Tippett said.
Tippett said Bieksa got the nod because he’s outgoing but also plays hard and with passion. Jason Chimera is one alternate because he brings the experience of winning at this tournament before and Kyle Turris is the other because he bridges young and old on the roster.
One thing Canada’s leadership group has in common is a love for keeping things light on the ice. That’s part of what Bieksa thinks his role is, but he also expects his teammates to take the tournament seriously.
“Just to keep guys loose having fun and then focused for the games,” the Vancouver Canucks defenceman said. “Everybody’s coming over here for a purpose. We didn’t fly all this way just to have a good time. We flew here to win games and to continue on the standard that Canada set at the Olympics. We’re going to come to compete.”
At 32, Bieksa is the fourth-oldest player on the team, younger than only Chimera (35), Joel Ward (33) and Alex Burrows (32). There are also a handful of very young players, including Nathan MacKinnon (18), Sean Monahan (19), Jonathan Huberdeau (20), and Mark Scheifele (21).
Bieksa is in charge of helping meld this diverse group together.
“It’s been pretty seamless so far. Everybody brings something to the table,” Bieksa said after practice at Chizhovka-Arena. “The young guys are young and (add) a new perspective and energy and the older guys, there’s some guys that have played in this tournament a few times and they know what to expect and you lean on them for some advice. It’s a good mix.”
Chimera is Canada’s only player with an IIHF World Hockey Championship gold medal, won in 2007 in Moscow. His message to a lot of his teammates is that they never know when they’ll be able to wear the Maple Leaf again.
That could be true of Chimera, too, and if it is the Washington Capitals winger is making sure he enjoys it. Even with two children at home, his wife was supportive of him coming to Minsk to play in his third world championship.
“Hockey keeps you young,” said Chimera, who’s 4 1/2 years too young to be able to play without a visor. “It’s just awesome, you see these young kids, how talented they are, they keep it light. A lot of them were pretty nervous coming over here, but I try to keep it as light as possible.”
Thursday’s first practice in Minsk following an exhibition game against Switzerland in Zurich was light but up-tempo. Tippett and assistants Paul Maurice and Peter DeBoer had plenty of teaching to do a day before Canada opens the tournament against France.
James Reimer will start against France, while Ben Scrivens is set to start against Slovakia on Saturday night.
“It goes solely off seniority,” Tippett said. “Scrivens was upset because he thought he should’ve got the call because he had 19 seconds longer than Reimer the other day (in the exhibition game).”
Reimer is playing at the world championships for the second time after going 4-0-0 in 2011 before being replaced by now-Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Jonathan Bernier. With Scrivens—who’s now with the Edmonton Oilers—on board this time, Reimer is sharing the net with a former teammate.
Come the start of the 2014-15 NHL season, he very well could have another goaltending partner if the Leafs trade the restricted free agent. Reimer’s season in Toronto didn’t go as he planned, and it’s only natural for him to think scouts and general managers will be watching him in Minsk.
“I assume so. I think they’re scouting everyone,” Reimer said. “I think everyone’s taking a peek at whoever might have a contract up or might not, that’s what they’re here to do. Any time you’re playing, especially in a different situation, they’re watching to see how you react and respond. But in every NHL game there’s scouts and GMs watching, too. It’s just one of those things wherever you’re playing competitively, people will be watching.”
There’s plenty for Tippett to watch for early in this tournament that could affect his plan going forward. On Thursday he kept the top line of Burrows, Turris and MacKinnon together from Tuesday’s exhibition game and tinkered elsewhere.
Nazem Kadri centred Cody Hodgson and Troy Brouwer, while Philadelphia Flyers teammates Brayden Schenn and Matt Read skated with Huberdeau. Chimera and Capitals teammate Ward remained together, and Tippett said he’ll keep an eye on having either Scheifele or Monahan between them.
Because this tournament is such a “scramble” with so little preparation time, Tippett is just trying to get create some chemistry before the first puck drop.
“You’ve got to get your players in roles early,” he said. “Always subject to change, but I think one of the most important factors of a tournament like this is you try to get everybody in their spots as quick as you can.”
That starts with establishing Bieksa as captain. Burrows voiced support for that choice because his Canucks teammate is good at bringing people together.
“He keeps it fun, he likes to have a good time,” Burrows said. “But at the same time when it’s time to work and do the right things, he’s the first one to lead the way.”
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