Pascal Leclaire remembers the Halifax Metro Centre
being loud. Thanks to more than a thousand leather-lunged, drum-beating
Latvians, it’s going to be even louder on Sunday.
The former Halifax Mooseheads goaltender will be
between the pipes when Canada takes on Latvia at 4:30 p.m. at the International
Ice Hockey Federation world championship, his first start on Metro Centre ice
since he left the Herd in 2001.
Latvians have been all over the city this week,
making a ruckus at the rink, on the streets and in the bars, and were perhaps
the loudest fans in the building on Friday when Latvia was on the sidelines
during the Canada-Slovenia game.
“We know their fans are great, and it’s gonna be
loud — they’ve been beating the drum for the past 48 hours around town,” the
25-year-old Columbus Blue Jackets stopper said.
“We’re looking forward to it.”
Canada romped to a 5-1 win over Anze Kopitar-led
Slovenia on Friday in the tournament opener, but the Latvians should provide a
grittier, more intense opponent. They played with a hard, physical edge in a 4-0
loss to the United States on Friday.
They feature only one NHLer — Los Angeles Kings
tough guy Raitis Ivanans — two former NHLers in forwards Janis Sprukts and
Herberts Vasiljevs, and Ontario Hockey League 40-goal scorer and Ottawa Senators
draft pick Kaspars Daugavins.
“I talked to (U.S. forward Jason) Pominville last
night and he said they work really hard,” Leclaire said. “We’ve got to respect
them and not take them lightly. They’ve gotten better every year (at the world
championship) and they work hard.”
It’s been hard to miss the Latvians downtown. A
mere mention of them brings a smile and respectful laugh from local citizens and
opposing players who have had run-ins with them.
“I don’t think you’ll see any fights (in the
stands) — they’ve (Latvians) had big smiles, they seem like extremely nice
people,” Leclaire said. “They’re here to have a good time.”
Leclaire played in Halifax from 1998 to 2001, and
is the second highest NHL draft pick in Mooseheads history. He started 98 games
during his three-year career.
“I remember my days here, especially Memorial Cup,
the ice was almost shaking when the people get going,” Leclaire said. “Hopefully
it will be an exciting game.”
Here are some news and notes from Canada’s off-day
on Saturday following a practice at the Halifax Forum.
- LECLAIRE IS BATTLING Carolina
Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward for the starting duties. A good showing against
Latvia would help him make a case for the No. 1 job.
- CANADA’S TOP LINE of Dany
Heatley, Rick Nash and Ryan Getzlaf reached its on-paper potential in the
tournament-opener on Friday, combining for four goals, and should be a
difference-maker throughout the event.
“It’s like playing with two other all-stars,” said
Nash, a former Rocket Richard Trophy winner. “Once we get the puck deep, I don’t
think too many defencemen can stop us.”
The line averages a beefy 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds.
Heatley and Nash are pure goal-scorers on the wings, while Getzlaf provides a
deft passing touch down the middle.
Nash only got back on the ice from minor throat
surgery on Tuesday and it’s been a steady progression since.
“You feel (the chemistry) coming,” Getzlaf said.
“When you turn around and know where the guy is, and there are little things —
it’s not so much the goal-scoring so much as being in support of each other and
knowing each other’s tendencies.”
- PATRICK KANE IS off to a hot
start for the United States. The Calder Trophy candidate as NHL rookie of the
year had a goal and two assists in Friday’s 4-0 win over Latvia.
Czech Republic’s Radim Vrbata (two goals, two
assists) and Russia’s Alexander Semin (two goals, one assist) are the early
stars in the Quebec City portion of the event.
- LATVIAN ASSISTANT COACH Harijs
Vitolinsh played for the Moncton Hawks in 1993-94, producing 62 points in 70
games. The Hawks were the runner-up for the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup