HALIFAX – Everything is falling into place for Team Canada at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
A 7-0 win over Latvia on Sunday represents the start of bigger things for the squad, which now finds itself as the last Canadian outfit playing hockey with professionals after the Montreal Canadiens were eliminated from the NHL playoffs.
“The lights just got a little bit brighter,” said coach Ken Hitchcock. “We’ll deal with it the best way we can.
“The players show up at this thing and they’re grateful for the chance but they’re a little down, especially the guys that got knocked out in the first round (of the NHL playoffs). Now everybody’s pretty jacked up.”
After opening the tournament with comfortable wins over Slovenia and Latvia, a bigger test lies ahead in Tuesday’s game against the U.S.
The Latvians were simply overpowered by the talented hosts. Dany Heatley had a goal and three assists, Rick Nash added two goals and Pascal Leclaire stopped all 30 shots he faced during the game.
Elsewhere in the tournament, the United States beat Slovenia 5-1, Russia edged the Czech Republic 5-4 and Denmark defeated Italy 6-2.
Any hope Latvia had of pulling off an upset went out the window when defenceman Mike Green scored a highlight-reel goal early on.
He took a Heatley pass just inside the Latvian zone and beat a defender before sliding the puck by goalie Edgars Masalskis while being turned sideways. That made it 2-0 for Canada just 3:45 into the game and pretty much ensured that it would be a long afternoon for the Latvians.
“I just had to skate by that last guy and had a bit of a half-breakaway,” said Green, who scored 18 goals for the Washington Capitals this season.
The siege continued from there as Canada’s top line put on another fantastic show.
Heatley’s four points made him Canada’s top career point-getter at this event in the modern era. He now has 40 points in 36 world championship games, which puts him one ahead of Steve Yzerman – this team’s GM.
The sniper has found instant chemistry with Nash and Ryan Getzlaf.
“That line has been phenomenal,” said captain Shane Doan. “The best part about it is that we still have two or three other lines that are still going to get going. That’s the part that makes Canada so dangerous.”
There are more dangerous opponents lurking. With NHL teams being eliminated from the second round, Hitchcock has already heard some rumblings of top players joining their national teams.
“I think there’s going to be some great games coming up,” he said. “It seems like a lot of teams are loading up now.”
Canada will not add any more players.
This group has already started to jell and develop an identity, as was evidenced prior to Sunday’s game when Doan was shown on the scoreboard singing along to the Stan Rogers ballad “Barrett’s Privateers.” It’s a popular tune among this group.
“The players have adopted that as a theme song,” said Hitchcock. “It’s being played at the start of the games and it’s also being played in our locker-room. They’ve really adopted that song as the song of the tournament for them and they’ll carry it right through. It’s a fantastic song.”
Patrick Sharp, Martin St. Louis and Chris Kunitz also scored goals for Canada on Sunday.
Latvia only had one NHLer in its lineup and Los Angeles Kings tough guy Raitis Ivanans was ejected in the third period for spearing Heatley.
There were some empty seats at the Metro Centre for the second straight Canadian game but it didn’t ruin the atmosphere. A rowdy contingent of Latvians made itself heard among the crowd of 7,831 by pounding drums and singing – even as their team continued to be scored on again and again.
“When some countries are down 7-0, I think their fans would have left,” said Nash. “They’ve probably got the best following out of the countries that are here.”
Sharp got things going quickly when he picked up a rebound and beat Masalskis 2:35 into the game. He scored 36 goals for the Chicago Blackhawks this season but is part of the fourth line on this team.
Green’s highlight-reel goal came soon after before Heatley scored his fourth of the tournament at 12:15 of the first period.
Canada put the game away in the second period. Nash, St. Louis and Kunitz scored in a span of 2:42 to start the period, prompting Latvian coach Olegs Znaroks to call a timeout and replace Masalskis with Sergejs Naumovs.
Nash got his second of the night at 12:20 on a play that was almost as nice as the one Green scored on. Getzlaf came out from behind the net and found him with a no-look backhand pass – Naumovs had no chance and the score was 7-0.
“They were tap-ins,” Nash said of his goals. “It was great passes from Getzlaf and Heatley. If I miss those, something’s wrong.”
The most misleading stat of the night presented itself as the horn went to end the second period. Canada only held a 23-21 edge in shots at that point despite dominating the game.
Latvia actually came on in the third period and it took some remarkable saves from Leclaire to keep them from scoring. Leclaire, who played junior hockey here with the QMJHL’s Mooseheads, ended up getting more work than he thought he would.
“They play really hard and didn’t give up,” he said. “It would have been easy for them when it was six or seven nothing to fold up the bags and go home but they kept coming.”