INNSBRUCK, Austria – The opening game at the world hockey championship has always been an interesting one for Team Canada and the 2005 version was one no different.
The Canadians admittedly didn’t play their best game to start the 16-team world tournament but they showed lots of promise in beating Latvia 6-4 after seeing a three-goal lead be sliced to one with 11 minutes left in the third period.
Last year in Prague, Canada trailed Austria by a pair of goals before rally for a 2-2 tie and then went on to take their second straight world championship.
After Latvia made it 5-4, the Canadians didn’t panic and responded by shutting down their opponents for the remainder. Rick Nash completed the hat trick late in the game to give the Canadians some breathing room.
The Canadians know they can play better and they know they must play better if they want to have success in the Austrian Alps.
They didn’t make any apologies for their effort.
“The most important thing is we did win,” said Sheldon Souray after the win. “Anyone can see we can play better than that. We didn’t have to play our best today but from here on in, as the competition gets better, we will have to play better than that. We have the guys who can do it.”
“I think the guys at that time (it was down to a one-goal game in the third) really stepped it up,” said Habscheid. “The players that we have are elite players and they knew it was 5-4 and the crowd is behind (the Latvians) and there is still lots of time to get the tying goal.
“But our guys were composed and they raised up the level a little bit.”
The Canadians definitely have the talent to win and the team will improve as players get used to playing elite hockey again. Unlike the European teams whose players are coming off a full regular season, a good part of Canada’s roster was inactive because of the NHL lockout.
“Physically the guys are getting to the point where they should be,” says Souray. “A lot of it now is your mental capacity. That stuff comes back and it takes time. You can draw all the Xs and Os you want but it really comes down to executing.”
Nash played in Switzerland and he was on his game.
“I feel in shape and I feel good with my timing with my hands,” said Nash. “I heard some of the guys say during the exhibition games that their timing was off but I felt good out there.”
Brendan Morrison opened the scoring at 2:55 of the first on a power play when he moved in from the left point and ripped a slap shot to the top corner. The lead lasted less than a minute as only 34 seconds later, a turnover in Canada's zone allowed Latvia to tie it.
Nash then caused the turnover that let Simon Gagne set up Joe Thornton for a power play goal 7:49 into the second frame. Latvia tied it just over three minutes later and then Nash and Patrick Marleau scored at 15:32 and 16:50 respectively for what should have been a comfortable three goal cushion.
Morrison took a charging penalty at 5:40 of the third and Janis Sprunkts scored at 6:16. Nash followed with an elbowing penalty at 6:54 and six seconds after he returned to the ice, it was a one-goal game with penalty of time to get the equalizer thanks to a goal by Karlis Skrastins.
Team Canada responded with a hard effort for the remainder of the game and Martin Brodeur made key saves to keep the Latvians from getting back into the game.
The Canadians now have two days to work on their game before they play Slovenia – the 16th ranked nation in the world of international hockey – on Tuesday. The only Slovenian player of note is Anze Kopitar. He won the Swedish junior league scoring title this season and will be a top first-round draft pick if the NHL gets around to having a draft.
“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves,” said Habscheid. “We had some turnover and guys are excited to play and the effort is great. But some decisions we want to clean up a little bit. It was a good game and we learned some things in kind of a hostile environment.”
The approximate 6,000 Latvian fans sang and cheered all night and their efforts reached fever pitch in the third when their hockey heroes narrowed the score to 5-4.
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Brad Pascall Vice-President, Hockey Operations