MANNHEIM, Germany – There was a welcome sight for Canada as a small group of players went through an optional skate at the IIHF World Hockey Championship on Saturday.
Steven Stamkos was back on the ice for the first time since suffering a head injury against Switzerland earlier this week. The team’s top forward pushed himself hard during the hour-long practice and was encouraged by the fact he didn’t experience a recurrence of the headache he had after being elbowed by a Swiss defenceman on Wednesday night.
“I feel really good actually,” said Stamkos. “The first day was a little tough. The last couple days I’ve been getting better every day. I actually feel probably the best I’ve felt right now after that skate. …
“I feel like I could play next game, but that will be up to the medical staff.”
Canadian coach Craig MacTavish doesn’t expect to have Stamkos in his lineup for Sunday’s game against Sweden (TSN, 2:15 p.m. ET). But the mere fact he’s starting to practise again is a positive sign for the Canadian team as it gets deeper into the tournament.
Stamkos was expected to be the team’s offensive leader after tying Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead with 51 goals this season. No one else on this Canadian team had more than 30.
The sight of him trying to skate to the bench after taking the elbow was tough to watch. He returned to the game before eventually sitting out the third period as a precaution.
“It was just headaches, kind of a little drowsiness (and) dizziness,” Stamkos said when asked how he felt at that time. “Any time you get a shot like that to any part of your face, you’re going to feel that. It was just getting your bell rung a little bit.
“Like I said, it’s been getting better and better every day. I have no headache today so it’s the best day so far.”
The Canadian team will have at least one new player in the lineup against Sweden as Mason Raymond joined the team for practice Saturday. The Vancouver Canucks forward got on a plane within a few hours of speaking to GM Mark Messier and was feeling the jet lag while skating on the practice ice at SAP Arena.
Raymond is familiar with a couple players on the team, but acknowledges that he’s a little nervous trying to fit in a group that has already played four games together.
“Yeah, of course, I think it’s human nature,” said Raymond. “You’re coming into something that’s already set up. I’m not quite sure how things are going to go.”
MacTavish thinks Raymond’s speed will be an asset on the bigger international ice surface and expects to work him into the forward rotation right away. Brent Burns is expected to be dropped back to defence.
The 24-year-old Raymond should fit in nicely with a young, hungry squad.
“He couldn’t have been happier to come and join the team,” said Messier. “That’s always a big thing for us to get the guys who really want to be here. He was just great about that.”
The game against Sweden will be Canada’s toughest test of the tournament. The teams have faced each other in the last four world championship semifinals—with Canada winning the last three after Sweden came out on top in 2006.
The two countries have built their teams in a similar fashion this time with plenty of young players. Many of those guys have gone head-to-head with one another in recent years at the world junior championship.
“It’s going to be high intensity,” said Canadian forward John Tavares, who leads the tournament with six goals. “I think both teams can really skate and move the puck really well. It should be an exciting game to watch and an emotional one as well.
“I think over the last few years, especially for a lot of the young guys, we’ve had a rivalry that’s starting to build up.”
The games are starting to get more important as well. After facing Sweden, Canada wraps up the round robin against the Czech Republic on Tuesday. It will then need three straight wins to come home with gold for the first time since 2007.
There seems to be some optimism that Stamkos could make a return at some point during the event.
“He’s definitely a huge part of our team and he’s a great player,” said forward Matt Duchene. “If we’re going to win this tournament and do well, he’s going to be a huge key. It’s fortunate that he looked as good as he did out there.”
However, the player’s health is the biggest concern. The Canadian team wants to be extra cautious with the injury because some of his symptoms suggested it might be a concussion.
The quick recovery is now casting doubt on that.
“I don’t even know if this was considered a real concussion,” said Stamkos. “It was just more of getting your bell rung a little bit. I’m OK now, I feel pretty good, and I’ve just got to rest up.”