Canada missing Smyth’s leadership at worlds

 

 
 
 
 
In this file photo, Marcel Mueller of Germany challenges Ryan Smyth of Canada next to Evander Kane of Canada during the pre IIHF World Championship match between Germany and Canada at the O2 World Hamburg.
 

In this file photo, Marcel Mueller of Germany challenges Ryan Smyth of Canada next to Evander Kane of Canada during the pre IIHF World Championship match between Germany and Canada at the O2 World Hamburg.

Photograph by: Joern Pollex, Bongarts/Getty Images

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OTTAWA - To be kind, the preliminary games of the IIHF world hockey championship are the poor cousin to the NHL playoff games that have so captivated hockey fans.

Only bored shut-ins and idle hockey writers (ahem) would have been inclined to take in the Tuesday morning tilt between Canada and the Czech Republic, from Mannheim, Germany.

The display and end result were distressing, and indicative of a pattern for the team in red and white. Canada continued its surprisingly listless showing at the tournament, falling 3-2 to Jaromir Jagr and the Czechs, the Canadians’ third loss at the tournament. Switzerland in the preliminary round and Sweden in the qualifying round also have notches on their belt after facing Canada, victories of 4-1 and 3-1 respectively.

It’s rarely a good sign when the losing team’s goaltender is chosen as player of the game. That was the case for Canada as Chris Mason kept the Canadians in it until the end.

At that, it took Corey Perry steamrollering goaltender Tomas Vokoun behind the Czech net to enable Matt Duchene to score Canada’s second goal with 1:11 on the clock in the third period.

Thanks to the loss, Canada finishes a dreary fourth in the F (Troop) Pool, setting up a quarter-final matchup against a loaded Russian team looking to restore some pride after its quarter-final loss to Canada at the Olympic tournament in Vancouver.

While the most casual of fans understands Canada was not able to send its top team to Germany, this collection of mostly young players has clearly not come together yet as a team. From across the pond, it’s easy to speculate the Canadians are missing the leadership of Captain Canada himself, Ryan Smyth, who fractured his ankle in a team practice early in the tournament.

While veteran winger Ray Whitney was an excellence choice as the replacement captain, Smyth’s value would have been heightened by the presence of so many young players, including NHL rookie-of-the-year candidates Tyler Myers and Duchene.

The absence of Smyth came to mind while watching Jagr motivate his teammates on Tuesday. What a marvel is Jagr — at 38 still a force on the ice, an iconic presence in the Czech lineup. He scored an important go-ahead goal in the second period, just missed a couple of other chances and continually spoke encouraging words on the bench, as captured on camera by the host broadcaster.

Off the ice, No. 68 has been outspoken of Czech veterans who did not heed their country’s call to show up in Germany. Jagr knows, of course, that this is a difficult year to recruit for the worlds. Along with the usual conflict of the NHL playoffs, virtually all of the top international players already did answer the call to Vancouver for the Olympic tournament. It has been a longer than usual season, players are injured, exhausted and more inclined to want to heal physically and mentally rather than go to the worlds.

Only the Russians seem to have adopted the show-up-or-else mandate.

What a difference a year makes. Last spring, some of the world’s best and brightest were gathered in Switzerland for the 2009 worlds, a handy showcase for talent hopeful of making Olympic rosters.

Canada had a very strong lineup, led by defencemen Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and Chris Phillips, and forwards Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Mike Fisher.

With so many threats with which to contend, opponents had no answer for Stamkos, who ripped his way to the tournament all-star team, an omen as to the season we could expect from Stamkos alongside St. Louis with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Only Russia had the answer, shutting down the Canadians 2-1 in the gold-medal game.

This time, Stamkos is less insulated and, more critically, suffered a concussion in the Swiss game that knocked him out of Canada’s lineup until Tuesday. He is obviously not yet himself.

This time, Canada would love just to reach the gold-medal game.

The players will have to connect in a hurry because the Canadians have plenty of issues, mostly centred around their problem scoring goals, other than the predictable routs of lesser hockey nations like Norway, Latvia and Italy.

wscanlanthecitizen.canwest.com

 
 
 
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In this file photo, Marcel Mueller of Germany challenges Ryan Smyth of Canada next to Evander Kane of Canada during the pre IIHF World Championship match between Germany and Canada at the O2 World Hamburg.
 

In this file photo, Marcel Mueller of Germany challenges Ryan Smyth of Canada next to Evander Kane of Canada during the pre IIHF World Championship match between Germany and Canada at the O2 World Hamburg.

Photograph by: Joern Pollex, Bongarts/Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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