CALGARY, Alta. -- Canada's National Team, coming off its victory at the Father David Bauer Cup tournament and a split of a four-game series with Russia, will play a six-game series against the Japanese Olympic team from January 15-24 in Alberta and B.C.
The tour includes Team Canada's only game this season at the Father David Bauer Arena, on Saturday, Jan. 18, a game that will help launch Royal Bank Canadian Hockey Week, a seven-day celebration of hockey and the volunteers who form the foundation of the game across Canada.
There is a Canadian connection with Team Japan, too, since the Japanese team, the host club at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, is managed by former Canadian National and Olympic team coach Dave King. The 1982 gold medalist as head coach of Canada's National Junior Team has been working with the Japanese Ice Hockey Federation as a consultant as Japan prepares to host the Winter Games.
Canada's National Team, under head coach Andy Murray and general manager and associate coach Mike Johnston, entered the New Year on a bright note by winning the three-nation Father Bauer Cup over Finland and Russia in Barrie, Ont., from Dec. 27-30.
Team Canada played a four-game series against the Russians in Northern Ontario, and the teams split the series, two games apiece. Canada beat Russia 4-1 in Fort Frances on Jan. 1, lost 2-1 in Kenora on Jan. 2 and 5-2 in Dryden on Jan. 4, before closing the series by winning a 7-6 shootout on Jan. 5.
'For our players, the games against the Japanese represent a chance to play against a team that is going to be an Olympic participant,' said Murray. 'We know they're a well-coached team.
'Dave King and I are old rivals -- I coached against him in university hockey and I really looked up to him when he held the job that I am doing now. He did so much for Canadian hockey and now he's trying to beat us.'
For the past year, King has been working as a consultant for the Japanese Ice Hockey Federation, helping them improve their overall hockey system, not just prepare for the Olympics. The Canadian tour is part of a learning process for the Japanese.
'The strength of our team is our speed -- we're very mobile and the players are explosive skaters,' said King. 'The players also are very adaptable and work well with systems.
'They like to work within a system and have a well-conceived plan. The key weakness is they're not very physical, unfortunately. And they don't have the same instinctive feel for the game that Canadians do.'
Following the Canadian games, the Japanese team will travel to Great Britain for a five-game tour and another two games in Switzerland, before returning home to Japan to face Team Canada for five more games.
'These games will allow us to gain some valuable experience,' said King. 'But I also want our players to receive a shot of reality.'
The series opens Wednesday in Banff (7:30 game time) and moves to Drayton Valley for a 7:00 p.m. start on Friday, Jan. 17. On Saturday, Jan. 18, Team Canada plays at the Father David Bauer Arena in a game that will help kick off Royal Bank Canadian Hockey Week. Minor hockey players who wear their team jersey to the game get in for free.
National Team coaches Murray and Johnston in a coaching clinic on Saturday afternoon from 5 - 7 p.m. in the multipurpose room at the Royal Bank Canadian Hockey Centre. The clinic is free of charge, but interested coaches should register with Dan Moro at the Calgary Centre of Excellence at 777-3642.
The remaining three games: Jan. 21 at Medicine Hat (7 p.m.), Jan. 22 at Fernie, B.C. (7 p.m.) and Bonnyville, AB on Jan. 24 (7:30 p.m.). All are featured events of Royal Bank Canadian Hockey Week.
There will be a Toonie Toss between periods at all games on the tour, in which fans can win prizes by tossing two-dollar coins (sheathed in a special envelope) at targets on the ice surface.
Tour Games Dates and Locations
Banff Recreation Centre Banff, AB. 7:30 p.m.
Drayton Valley Arena Drayton Valley, AB. 7:00 p.m.
Father David Bauer Arena Calgary, AB. 7:30 p.m.
Medicine Hat Arena Medicine Hat, AB. 7:00 p.m.
Fernie Memorial Arena Fernie, B.C. 7:00 p.m.
R.J. Lalonde Arena Bonnyville, AB. 7:30 p.m.