BUFFALO, N.Y. —
If Canada was on a high after beating Russia before an adoring cross-border crowd in its opening game at the world junior hockey championship, coach Dave Cameron had a message on Monday — snap out of it.
“Our message today is respect — respect the tournament and the teams in it,” Cameron said after a one-hour skate at HSBC Arena. “If we start thinking we beat a good team and now we’re playing two lesser teams, that’s a recipe for disaster.
“We’re not looking at this as any kind of downswing. We look at the Czechs and they’re a worthy opponent.”
The Czech Republic, which opened Monday night against Norway in Niagara Falls, N.Y., is Canada’s next opponent on Tuesday followed by a meeting with the modest Norwegians on Wednesday night.
On paper, it’s two games Canada should win, barring a let-down in the energy that took them to their 6-3 win over Russia on Sunday, a victory that erased some doubts about the team’s ability to compete with the world’s top under-20 teams with a big squad that is strong on physical play but perhaps short on flashy scoring forwards.
“I saw (the Czechs) in a pre-tournament game and they’re aggressive, they’re very structured,” said Cameron. “Their defencemen pinched down the walls and in the neutral zone, much like the Russians did.
“They didn’t give up many odd man rushes. They’re good.”
The Czechs, who beat the United States 3-2 in a shootout in a pre-tournament game Dec. 21, are led by right-winger Roman Horak, a New York Rangers draft pick with Chilliwack of the WHL and centre Andrej Nestrasil, a Detroit prospect playing for P.E.I. in the QMJHL.
They have nine players in the three Canadian junior leagues, including two from the Rimouski Oceanic — forwards Petr Straka and Jakub Culek — and forward Andrej Palat of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, who will play against teammate Sean Couturier.
“He’s a skilled little player, who works hard and is strong on the puck,” said Couturier.
They will try to be the first fully Czech team to beat Canada at the world junior tournament since a combined Czech/Slovak squad won 7-4 in 1993 in Gavle, Sweden. Since then, Canada has gone 9-0-2 against the Czechs. The teams tied 1-1 when the Czechs won the tournament in 2000 and didn’t play when the Czechs won again in 2001.
But that’s all ancient history for the players at this tournament.
“We’ve got to put that (Russia) game behind us and focus on the next one and never take any team for granted,” said centre Ryan Johansen. “Especially against teams like Norway. Make sure we don’t let any bad habits into our game.”
Among the good habits Canada forged against Russia was to hit their opponents at every opportunity without taking too many penalties.
Leading the way were the unit of six-foot-two Johansen and Marcus Foligno and six-foot-three Zack Kassian.
“Foligno made a couple of huge hits and Kassian’s made some big ones,” said Johansen, the fourth overall pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets in June who led the team with seven shots against Russia and scored the game-winning goal. “They’re a lot of fun to play with.
“One of the best assets of our game is when we work the puck down low. It seems like defenders have a lot of trouble with us. We have to keep taking the puck to the net and get as many chances as possible.”
It has been part of Canada’s game plan since management selected its second biggest world junior team ever — averaging six-foot-one 199 pounds, the same height but five pounds lighter than the 2005 gold medal team — to lay on the body when ever possible.
“If you don’t use it, you waste it,” Cameron explained.
It cost them early against Russia as Foligno took himself and a teammate out with a hit that led to a Russian goal, but it paid off in the third period when Canada took over.
“You want to be very physical in the first couple of periods to wear them down for the third,” said Kassian, a rugged winger from the Windsor Spitfires. “We did a great job of that and we have to keep doing it.
“A key to our success is working the puck down low and cycling it and being hard to play against. Being hard on their defence by finishing checks to wear them down.”
It appears that Olivier Roy has won the starting goaltending job as he will start a second game in a row, although Cameron said Mark Visentin would play “at some point.” A likely start would be against Norway as the second of games on back-to-back nights.
Another large, pro-Canadian crowd is expected at, like the one that gave Canada a home team feel against Russia.