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Teenager Toews helps set Canada up for 5-4 victory over Slovakia

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The 19-year-old student at the University of North Dakota is the only player on the team who doesn't earn a paycheque playing hockey and has been understandably quiet in the locker-room early in the tournament. But performances like the one he had Wednesday have said more than enough. Toews set up all three goals Canada scored on the power play in a 5-4 win over Slovakia.

"He's unbelievable how he's taken in the pressure," said forward Rick Nash, who had the winning goal against the Slovaks. "He's pretty much the quarterback on the power play. His vision and his puck skills are pretty unbelievable . . .

"I'm definitely impressed."

It was Canada's first game since the issue of Shane Doan being named captain of the team was raised in the House of Commons. The controversy didn't seem to have much affect on the team as it passed its first true test at the tournament.

The victory improved Canada's record to 3-0, but that seemed somewhat lost in all the discussion about Doan back at home.

Goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who made 24 saves for the win, says the team has rallied around its captain. He's anxious for the story to go away.

"It's really unfortunate for Canadian hockey and our country," said Roloson.

Doan didn't figure in the scoring but was part of Canada's top line with Nash and Matthew Lombardi and did his part on the power play.

Coach Andy Murray has tried to ease Toews into his first event at this level.

After coming into the tournament pencilled onto the team's top line, Toews has been skating Jordan Staal and Colby Armstrong at even strength and logging most of his minutes on the power play.

Through three games, he's tied for the team lead in points at four with Nash, Jason Chimera and Cory Murphy.

"I'm hesitant with young players to laud them too much because they're in a learning process," said Murray. "But being a good Manitoba boy . . . he's a solid person, good player, we're pleased for him.

"He's learning so much by being around the veteran players and the standard that they've set for all our young guys."

Toews's best play on this night set up defenceman Eric Brewer for a goal in the second period that made it 3-1 for Canada. The teenager held onto the puck before sending it between four Slovak defenders and right onto Brewer's stick.

It certainly had his teammates talking.

"He was awesome," said Doan. "He's somebody that can do so much offensively and he's capable of doing more."

Dan Hamhuis, Jamal Mayers and Murphy also scored Wednesday for Canada, which plays Belarus in its first game of the qualifying round on Friday at 10:15 a.m. ET.

Branko Radivojevic, Marian Hossa, Marek Uram and Miro Satan replied for Slovakia (2-1).

The Slovaks will face the U.S. on Thursday in their first game of the qualifying round and are hoping to be better on the penalty kill.

"We definitely gave them too many power-play opportunities and they used them," said Satan. "Against the U.S., we're definitely going to have to be more disciplined."

Canada twice blew a two-goal lead in the game and found itself tied early in the third period when Satan scored after Roloson had lost the puck behind his own goal.

But Nash got the winning goal at 9:02 when he tipped Murphy's point shot past Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak. The Columbus Blue Jackets sniper had several near-misses in the game and pumped his fists with excitement after finally scoring.

"Those chances are still coming," said Nash. "I almost beat him a couple times. I was able to get that last tip-in and it was pretty exciting to get the win."

The Canadian players can now look forward to seeing their families, who are scheduled to arrive on Thursday.

Some familiar faces will be a welcome sight as the team moves closer to the must-win games.

"It's a key point in time in the tournament," said Roloson.

If Toews can continue to be a key performer it will be a bonus.

The Winnipeg native made headlines earlier in the year when he scored three times in a semifinal shootout win over the U.S. that helped Canada earn a third consecutive gold medal at the world junior championship.

It was a second for Toews and he can go for a third next winter if he decides to stay in college rather than sign with Chicago Blackhawks.

First he'll continue going for gold at the world championship, where he's been sharing a room with Doan while getting comfortable with his new teammates.

"We had Jonathan and Shane room together for a reason," said Murray. "It wasn't so that Jonathan could help Shane. We felt he's a great example, a great role model.

"What a great opportunity for Jonathan to get on solid foundation with a professional player."

Toews has loved the experience so far, even if he hasn't been saying much at practice or in the dressing room.

He's not normally the kind of guys who stays quiet but these are special circumstances.

"I'm vocal when I'm in the game," said Toews. "That's just the relationship I like to have with my teammates . . .

"Now I'm just trying to listen a little more and obviously take it all in from the guys who know quite a bit more than I do."

Notes: Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf played his first game for Canada and assisted on Brewer's goal . . . The Canadian players wore the team's black third jersey during the game. They will be auctioned off on EBay from May 4 to 14th . . . Slovakia entered the tournament ranked sixth in the world while Canada was fourth.


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