Saturday, January 07, 2006


WJC Musings: Team Canada

This is the first of my WJC post-tourney ramblings, this time dealing with the victorious Team Canada.

Before and throughout the tournament, the hyperbole was thick like Slick Rick. Listening to the Canadian media, Team Canada had a very young team with no experience and hardly any talent and would get slaughtered by either the Americans or the Russians. The only reason Team Canada won gold medal is because Coach Brent Sutter bent the will of the universe to do his bidding.


Does Canada have the depth of super-talented-players like the USA? No.

Does Canada have a single player as good as Evgeni Malkin? No.

Does Canda have plenty of very talented players? Yes. Cam Barker, Eric Staal, Luc Bourdon, Jonathan Toews, Benoit Pouliot, and Justin Pogge are names you are going to hear for a long time.

Does Canada have a truckload of quality depth? Yes.

So, why did the Canadian media insist on playing the 'underdog' for Team Canada? Well, to sell their 'stories', why else? Yes, Canada didn't have the absolute monsterstein that they had last year (nor will anyone likely have that again), but the Canucks were still one of the 3 teams most likely to win gold.

Look at Team Canada's roster from top to bottom and compare them with every other country. Our depth slays just about everyone else, and matches up just fine with the Americans. Our 7th defenseman, Sasha Pokulok, the big first-rounder who played 3 shifts all tournament, would have been a Top-3 defenseman on most other teams.

I was comfortable with Canada's chances before the tournament and throughout the tournament. You add a deep roster of speedy skaters, talented defensemen, hard workers and add in a quality coach, then you have a team with a great shot to win it all. Beating down Canada and then proclaiming their gold medal win such an amazing and surprising victory was a great media ploy, since most sheep took the bait and had their proverbial wool sheared.

As for the play of individual players...

Luc Bourdon, D - (6GP 1-5-6 +5) More and more and more, I'm liking this guy and I am very happy the Canucks picked him. I don't know how the IIHF Directorate picked Staal over Bourdon for their award, because Bourdon did EVERYTHING well. This guy was laying some monster Scott Stevens-like hits, providing great offense, and playing solid defense. He's really rounding into the complete package. The only downside? He needs to work on his PP QBing skills.

Cam Barker, D - (6GP 2-4-6 +6 3PPG) The elder statesman of the team, Barker's all-around game was excellent and he really lead by example on the ice. He was the trigger man for Canada on the PP, but I don't know if he'll ever be expected to do that in the NHL.

Steve Downie, W - (6GP 2-4-6 +6) The Flyers 1st-rounder is now drawing comparisons to his GM, Bobby Clarke. Oy! Downie certainly was an excellent worker and the media is now trumpeting him as the epitome of what Team Canada was all about. I loved the fact that he could take a beating and keep on going like nothing had happened. He kept his emotions under control for the most part. I don't see Bobby Clarke, though, because Clarke was an excellent playmaker and Downie doesn't appear to be that gifted offensively nor does he have Bobby's vision. I see Downie as more of a Keith Jones-type, which is still pretty good.

Justin Pogge, G - How happy must Leafers be that they have both Pogge and Tuukka Rask in their grasp? Damn... Well, Pogge was excellent and I couldn't find any holes in his game. His reflexes, rebound control, angles, size...all great! Looking at some scouting reports, his big drawback in the past was his temper (ala Cloutier), but I didn't see anything of the sort in this tournament. You could tell he had a calming, yet inspiring, influence on his team. Pogge made the saves without much trouble and the team didn't ever have to worry about their goaltender letting in a softy (unlike the Russians).

Daniel Bertram, W - (6 0-0-0 even 22PIM) When Daniel Bertram snubbed the WHL Vancouver Giants for the NCAA, he cited the fact that he was 'undersized' and it seemed he was worried that he wouldn't do so well in the physical WHL. Strangely, Bertram was one of the more physical and aggressive players on Team Canada. Bertram was laying some really big hits and working hard along the boards. Huh? Daniel Bertram? This wasn't the kid I was expected.

I also didn't expect him to go through the tournament pointless. It was like he was possessed by somebody else for 2 weeks. He didn't look very good in the offensive zone when he had the puck, but at least he showed that he can handle physical play just fine.

Guillaume Latendresse, W - (6GP 0-0-0 even 0PIM, 2 SOG) Remember the hullabaloo in the pre-season when French-Canadian Habs fans desperately wanted Guillaume on the roster? Well, his disappointing performance in this tournament suggests he needs to do some work. Guillaume is probably the only player that played himself out of a bigger role on the team and he did little or nothing when I saw him on the ice. His role with the team grew smaller as the tournament went along.

Marc Staal, D (6GP 0-1-1 +3) Although he had only one point, he was the best defensive defenseman for Team Canada. The guy is sizeable, strong, and very hard to beat one-on-one. Staal is one of those defensemen that does it more with positioning than bluster. He's not going to be an MVP candidate like his older brother, but he could certainly turn out to be a very plus-impact defensive defenseman. His biggest drawback was a lack of bulk, but his peers certainly didn't have any success getting by him.

Kyle Chipchura, C - (6GP 4-1-5 +5) I was a bit surprised that he was given the C over Barker, but he was more 'typical' of Canada's effort with his aggressive and in-your-face nature. Kyle worked hard and tied for the team lead in goals. What kind of NHL career could we expect? He's not exactly small like Matt Cooke or Darcy Tucker, but he plays a lot like them (minus the mouth). He can play in every situation and fit in nicely. He'll make a nice 'role player' for the Habs to compliment their stable of offensive-minded star prospects.

As you would expect, most players on the team were good or excellent, with only a few disappointments. Jonathan Toews led the team in exhbition scoring, but had a reduced role in the actual tournament and finished with a modest 2 assists in the 6 games. Certainly, neither Toews or Michael Frolik is going to threaten Phil Kessel as the #1 pick in the 2006 draft based on this tournament.

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