The team everyone picked to win the tournament debuted against the team many picked to finish last, and the result was predictable.
TORONTO – The most stacked team at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey drew the least stacked team, at least on paper, when Canada kicked off its tournament Saturday night against the Czech Republic. There were only two ways the game would go. The Canadians, with their embarrassment of talent, would steamroll the once-proud Czechs in a laugher or the Czechs would remind everyone that, hey, they still had a team comprised of mostly NHLers, and anyone can win on any given night.
The Czechs looked more than competent…for about half a period. Canada captain Sidney Crosby opened the scoring with a bank shot off Czech goaltender Michal Neuvirth at the 8:26 mark, and the defending Olympic and World Cup champs were off. Canada cruised to a 6-0 victory. It trailed 6-1 in shots at one point but peppered the Czechs 49-21 after that. The ice tilted in Canada’s favor for about 52 minutes, and it didn’t seem to matter which forward line coach Mike Babcock rolled out there, whether it was Joe Thornton between Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene or Ryan Getzlaf centering John Tavares and Steven Stamkos.
It was the top unit of Crosby between Boston Bruins Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand that really laid waste to the Czechs, though. At least two of them were in on all three first-period Canada goals, including Bergeron’s back-breaking snipe with one second left. All three players have the ability to make high-skill plays at top speed playing a north-south style. The Czech defense corps, which lacks a dominant blueline presence, simply had no answer. Canada’s fourth tally, in which Crosby and Thornton briefly shared the ice together, really summarized the night. Crosby weaved past helpless right winger Michael Frolik and feathered a perfect pass to an all-alone Thornton, who tapped the puck past Neuvirth. The sequence looked like a video game switched to the easiest settings. Crosby, resuming the dominance he showed in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs with the Pittsburgh Penguins, had a goal and three points, equalling Marchand’s stat line to lead Canada.
A game this lopsided puts each team in an awkward spot going forward in the round-robin. Canada just pummelled the team most pundits picked as far and away the tournament’s weakest, so while the performance was near perfect, Saturday wasn’t exactly a measuring-stick night.
“You have to continue to get better,” Crosby told reporters after the game. “Teams are going to scout, and there are lots of guys from other teams who are good offensively.”
The Czechs, meanwhile, have to shake off the notion they already have no chance to win this tournament. They have no easy games ahead, especially since their next Group A opponent, Team Europe, upset the Americans Saturday afternoon.
“Sure, it’s the first game, it’s 6-0 and it’s not ideal,” said Czech assistant coach Vinny Prospal. “But hopefully the sun will come up tomorrow. We’ll get ready for our next game, which is going to be really, really important, and we just have to regroup. There’s really no rocket science in that. The best thing is we don’t have to sit here for three or four days. We get to play in a couple days, and we play the early game.”
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin