Team Canada's Patrick Sharp (left) and Slovenia's Anze Kopitar battle for possession of the puck during the first period of the IIHF world hockey championship on Friday at the Metro Centre in Halifax. Photo by The Canadian Press
Little was known about Slovenia entering the first day of the 2008 world hockey championship, other than its hockey team was, in the eyes of many pundits, little more than a bunch of rec league players, plus one ringer.
The ringer, promising young Los Angeles Kings star Anza Kopitar, lived up to his billing, scoring his team‚s only goal in a 5-1 Team Canada win Friday, but it was unknown Slovenian netmider Robert Kristian who left the biggest impression on the Canadians, stopping 60 shots at the Halifax Metro Centre.
"That guy was unbelievable,‰ said Canada‚s Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. „I mean, you have to tip your cap to him.
„To come into the first game and face 65 shots is something else. He showed he‚s an elite goaltender. He came in and faced 65 shots of what is essentially an NHL team. We didn‚t have a clue who he was.‰
According to the flimsy Slovenian media guide, Kristian, „„would easily play in a movie about Jesus Christ. But he loves hockey more.‰
The 25-year-old from Jesenice, meantime, did play like he had a higher power on his side, shutting down a high-scoring Canadian attack time and again, particularly in the second period when Canada unleashed a 31-shot barrage.
Shots on goal after 40 minutes was 50-14.
Kristian made several NHL-calibre saves on a Canada power play late in the second, stopping Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets on a breakaway and robbing Dany Heatley of the Ottawa Senators and Getzlaf from in close.
Somewhere, Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau was looking for the netminder‚s cell number.
„There was a lot of pressure, going up against the world champions,‰ Kristian said of the Candians, reigning world champions. „I was happy they only got five goals.
„But it‚s a great feeling. To play against a great team like Canada is special and to play the world championship in Canada is special.‰
Heatley led Canada with three goals. Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dan Hamhuis of the Nashville Predators had the other goals.
Kopitar scored in the second.
While Kristian was coming under fire in one end, Cam Ward was barely breaking a sweat in the Canadian net, facing 23 shots. Although the Carolina Hurricanes puckstop did foil Kopitar on a breakaway as Canada got sloppy in the third period.
"We‚re not where we need to be,‰ said Hamhuis. „We played well, but we need to be better.‰
Canada has the day off today, but is back in action Sunday (5 p.m., TSN) against Latvia.
The first world hockey championship played in Canada had a distinct international feel to it Friday night. Taking up some premium box seats were a pair of Skoda vehicles ˜ not exactly a common site at Mooseheads junior games ˜ while a large contingent of well-oiled Latvian fans banged drums and blew horns, easily making the most noise of the near-sellout crowd ... Gen. Rick Hillier, head of the Canadian Armed Forces and a native Newfoundlander, was among those in attendance, escorted through the press box by Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson ... A handful of Canadians would be familiar to AHL fans in St. John‚s. Martin St. Louis (Saint John), Jason Chimera (Hamilton), Steve Staios (Hamilton), Derek Roy (Rochester) and backup goalie Pascal Leclaire (Syracuse) all came through old Memorial Stadium and Mile One Centre during their AHL days ...