VANCOUVER - There were six locked-out Vancouver Canucks skating Thursday at UBC but only one, Chris Higgins, was born in the USA so you can imagine who had the goofiest grin on his face.
Higgins was, of course, basking in the reflected glory of his country's 5-1 semi-final triumph over Canada at the world junior championships in Russia.
“I loved it,” he said.
Apparently he resisted the urge to chirp Canuck teammates Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra and Kevin Bieksa, Canadians all, over the unexpected rout. The U.S. will meet Sweden in Saturday's final.
“You know what?” Higgins continued. “The bunch we have here aren't the loud ones about it so I haven't gotten on them too much. Every time the U.S. is able to beat Canada, it's big. It's great to see.”
Malhotra confirmed that Higgins kept his comments low key, for the most part.
“He didn't say very much,” nodded Malhotra. “He had a smug look on his face, that's about it.”
Higgins, 29, played in two world junior tournaments – 2002 and 2003 – but didn't win a medal. The following year, Team USA, with Ryan Kesler among its players, did emerge victorious, beating Canada 4-3. Higgins admitted his allegiance to the Stars and Stripes didn't include staying up half the night to watch the victory live.
“I was in bed by 10,” he chuckled. “Then I checked it this morning. I was impressed with some of the goals and even some of the chances they had where they didn't score. For kids that age to compete against Canada like that, and make those kind of plays, I was really impressed with the skill level.”
Of course, there were also a few smiles Wednesday from the Sedin brothers, who will be rooting for their country against the Americans. Higgins claimed he was gearing up for a friendly wager with the twins.
“I think we'll have to do something,” he announced. “I'm feeling pretty confident.”
“We'll see what happens,” responded Canuck captain Henrik Sedin. “There is nothing so far.”
Henrik said he watched only the last part of Sweden's 3-2 shootout victory over the host Russians but was obviously proud of the fact the Swedes were able to advance despite a string of injuries to their defence corps. They will be seeking a second straight gold medal.
“We're trying to copy Canada,” quipped Henrik when asked to explain the Swedes' recent success. “They've done a great job. I think they started like 10 years ago after they had some bad results in the world juniors and wanted to do something. So they got better coaches and they're doing some different things to get guys to play more like men in this tournament. I think back then you were a junior and you played like a junior. Right now, when you see them play, they play like men.”
Malhotra and Hamhuis, both of whom appeared in two world junior tourneys for Canada, had the stiff upper lips going Thursday.
“Today's score wasn't, I think, reflective of that team's true ability,” Malhotra commented. “Obviously it's disappointing not to be playing for gold but, as a nation, we should be proud of those kids, what they've accomplished and how well they've represented us.
“We've looked at the world juniors as gold or bust for Canada for so many years and it puts a lot of undue stress on those guys over there,” continued Malhotra, 32. “It's a global game now. Everybody is catching up and everybody is adapting to the different styles of play. To say 'gold or bust' these days, I think can be insulting in a way to the other countries who have brought their levels up to that stage now.”
Like many, Hamhuis woke up to the news of Canada's loss. He watched the highlights to try and get a sense of what happened.
“Obviously as an alumnus of the world juniors for Canada, I always hope for those guys,” he said. “It was tough to see the loss. I think other countries have certainly picked up their programs. Canada probably has the most depth of them all but the top-end players in these other countries are very good. It's a very competitive tournament.”
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