Canada will make case for defence

CanWest News Service
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REGINA - Is 14 days enough time to build a champion?
Team Canada's run of five straight gold medals at the world junior hockey championship is proof that the blueprint works. Still, there are no shortcuts in a carefully mapped evolution process which began on Dec. 12 when 35 players gathered for a tryout camp in Regina.
The final 22-man roster was assembled just four days later, after which the team used a three-game exhibition slate to hone the lineup and - perhaps more importantly - determine the sum of its parts.
So, having taken a long look in the mirror, what does Team Canada see?
"I think we know we have to play really solid defensively," offered head coach Willie Desjardins. "(In the exhibition games) it didn't seem like we're going to score all the time so we have to make sure we play well defensively. We just can't give up a lot."
So far, they haven't.
In three pre-competition contests - all wins - Canada scored 12 goals while allowing just four. That gap is expected to widen even further during Saturday's tournament opener against Latvia, but the Canadians insist they can't afford to lose touch with their identity.
"Everyone has heard the cliche that defence wins (championships)," noted right-winger Jordan Eberle. "Our defence has been great. We're going to need that going into the tournament. Obviously we're going to need to put the puck in the net but we'll let that work out for itself."
When the Canadians won gold last year in Ottawa, they did it on the strength of a robust offence. Although the team allowed just 12 goals in six games, it scored a whopping 46, led by the top three scorers in the tournament - John Tavares, Cody Hodgson and Eberle.
There are six returning players from that high-octane group, but the comparison ends there.
"I think we're a different team," explained sniper Taylor Hall. "Last year we had a little bit more offence. This year (the team will succeed) with our systems, with our depth, and our defence is very strong."
Hall, Eberle and Nazem Kadri are expected to be among Canada's offensive catalysts, but it remains to be seen if they - or some other combination of players - can carry the team. Based upon that uncertainty, the squad will continue to embrace the approach that it needs to score by committee and win with defence.
"Everybody realizes they have to step up their games," added Eberle. "The tournament is so hard, you have so many close games, that we need to battle through and find a way to win."
Eberle believes that what sets Canada apart is a willingness to do whatever it takes, without regard for who gets the glory. Based upon early indications, that philosophy must be infectious.
"I scored in three straight (exhibition) games but I'm also proud of the fact that I wasn't on for a goal-against," added Hall. "I think that's pretty big on Team Canada. Any time you can be a good player in both zones, Willie is going to rely on you."

Organizations: Team Canada

Geographic location: Canada, REGINA, Latvia Ottawa

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