SASKATOON – Jordan Eberle has picked up right where he left off at last year’s world junior hockey championship.
The Regina Pats forward, proud to be wearing the team’s new Saskatchewan green jerseys, scored a goal and set up four others Monday, including three from linemate Brandon McMillan, as Canada downed Switzerland 6-0 for its second straight shutout.
“It seemed that stuff went in tonight,” said Eberle, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick who is among six returning players from the team that won gold at last year’s tournament in Ottawa.
A year ago, Eberle had six goals and seven assists in six games as Canada tied a record by winning a fifth straight gold medal.
One of his goals saved the tournament for Canada, coming in the dying seconds of a semifinal against Russia to tie a game they eventually won 6-5, before beating Sweden in the final.
“Going back to it, Elly (Ryan Ellis) made a huge play and so did Johnny (John Tavares), so I was just the lucky one who put it in,” Eberle recalled. “But I think that whole world juniors last year gave me confidence.
“I played a key role last year as far as ice time and that gave me confidence going into NHL camp and this season. Last year was special with the adversity we overcame. This year, being in my home province is pretty cool, and to win six in a row would be something to be proud of. We’ve got two (wins) down now and four to go.”
Nazem Kadri of the London Knights and St. Louis Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo also scored for Canada, which trounced Latvia 16-0 in its tournament opener on Saturday.
Montreal Junior netminder Jake Allen made 15 saves and has needed to stop just 25 shots in two games to register a pair of shutouts.
Canada (2-0) continues preliminary round play Tuesday night against Slovakia (1-1). Switzerland (0-2) plays Latvia (0-2) on Wednesday in what has become a must-win game if they hope to reach the quarter-finals.
Canadian defenceman Calvin de Haan left the game at 4:18 of the second period after an open-ice hit and did not return. Coach Willie Desjardins said he was held out as a precaution and would know more about his condition on Tuesday.
While Canada outshot the Swiss 54-15, it was a tougher and certainly more physical test than Latvia. Desjardins wasn’t pleased with what he felt was careless play in the first period, even though his team had taken a 2-0 lead, and told his players so.
“We were losing a lot of faceoffs early, but in the second we were better,” he said.
The Canadians may have anticipated another romp after McMillan fired in an Eberle rebound only 23 seconds into the game. Against Latvia, Canada had scored in 36 seconds.
“The first period was a little weak for us,” said Pietrangelo. “But responding and having a good game against a pretty good team was positive.”
After scoring six times on eight power plays against Latvia, Canada added another four on eight chances against the Swiss, who were throwing some big hits after falling behind.
“We have a couple of big bodies on our team,” said Swiss captain Luca Sbisa, a defenceman with NHL experience whose rights were dealt to the Anaheim Ducks as part of the trade that sent Chris Pronger to the Philadelphia Flyers last summer.
“We’re not afraid to play physical at all. You can’t win by taking a step back. We want to initiate.”
Sbisa said his team desperately needs a goal to get going.
“Our confidence level is not where it’s supposed to be,” he said. “But we haven’t given up. Now we look ahead to key games against Latvia and Slovakia. We have to win those games and I think we have a pretty good chance.”
The crowd of 13,301 at the 14,000-seat Credit Union Centre saw Canada dominate the Swiss with their high pace and physical play.
The Swiss lost 3-0 to the United States in their opener on Sunday, but goalie Benjamin Conz was the star with 46 saves. This time, he was beaten five times on his first 20 shots, but still made 48 saves.
Pietrangelo was alone in the slot on a power play to score on a wrist shot at 8:14 of the first period.
Swiss forward Mauro Jorg was in the penalty box for two power-play goals in a 20-second span early in the second. Kadri scored on a sharp-angled shot from the right boards and Eberle cut in front of Conz to deflect a Ellis point shot.
Eberle then flipped a pass for McMillan to bang into an open side at 3:43.
With Canada on a power play with 38 seconds left to play, Desjardins sent McMillan out to try for the hat-trick and it worked as the Kelowna Rocket tapped in a puck that was deflected behind Conz.
“It was nice of him to do that for me,” said McMillan. “I haven’t scored too many goals this year, only nine, so it’s nice to get these three.”
The Eberle-McMillan-Brayden Schenn line was Canada’s best, as the Swiss focused on stopping talented winger Taylor Hall, who got an assist on Kadri’s goal.
“We were cycling the puck well,” said Eberle, who being a Regina native and Saskatchewan Roughriders fan, he also liked the green jerseys.
“They played man-to-man and we took advantage of that down low and it gave us a lot of chances.”
Notes: Canada’s 16-0 win over Latvia on Saturday was its biggest ever shutout win and tied their mark for their largest margin of victory set in an 18-2 win over Germany in 1985. … Gabriel Bourque’s seven points against Latvia tied for third place all-time for points in one game. The most was 10 by Peter Forsberg against Japan in 1992, while Sweden’s Ola Rosander had eight points against Poland in 1987.