The storyline was the same: Dany Heatley scores, Canada wins.
But this time, the opponent was Canada’s hated rival, the United States, and the game was one that the boys wearing the Maple Leaf probably didn’t deserve to win.
Heatley’s sixth goal in three games with 46.8 seconds remaining lifted a sluggish Canadian squad to a 5-4 victory over the U.S. at the Metro Centre in a game that was the first real test for both teams at the IIHF World Championship.
Player of the game Cam Ward sparkled in the Canadian net, making 29 saves amid heavy pressure from a young American squad that showcased impressive energy and jump.
“It was an ugly one,” Canadian captain Shane Doan put it afterward, “but we found a way to win.”
Ugly from the perspective of Team Canada, but not from that of the sold-out crowd of 9,192, which easily got its money’s worth in a fast-paced game with end-to-end action.
Heatley, who wore Bobby Hull’s 1976 Canada Cup sweater in the warm-up as a tribute to the storied squad, looked every bit the part of the Golden Jet when he rifled a beautiful one-timer from between the faceoff circles to save the day.
“That was no easy hockey game,” Ward said. “It wasn’t the best game we were capable of, but at the end of the day, we’ll take the win and realize we have to be sharper.”
Canada grabbed mysterious 3-0 and 4-2 leads despite being outplayed for the better part of two periods, with goals from Brent Burns, Heatley, Jonathan Toews and Derek Roy.
U.S. goals from Dustin Brown and Montreal-born Jason Pominville just 1:36 apart in the third, at 5:18 and 6:54, tied the game 4-4 and silenced the boisterous crowd.
Both goals came on the power play. Canada’s seven trips to the penalty box did little to help its cause.
“We take a couple of penalties, make a couple of mistakes, and you can’t do that,” said Heatley, who leads all scorers with 10 points. “We know we have to get better, but that’s what this tournament’s about — getting better every game.”
The Americans came away beaming, and are eager for another crack at the Canadians later in the tourney.
“Speaking on behalf of my team, I thought they played their asses off,” U.S. head coach John Tortorella said.
“It was something our program can build on,” said Patrick O’Sullivan, who scored for the U.S. “We showed a lot of people we can play on the same level as those guys.”
Canadian head coach Ken Hitchcock called it an “intense game” and said that “players who weren’t up to that level got exposed,” clearly not satisfied with his troops.
“We were lucky,” he said. “Three great players (Heatley, Rick Nash and Ryan Getzlaf) made a great play on an odd-man rush (to win it), but it could have gone the other way.”
Canada, 3-0, clinched first in Group B and plays next tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. EDT