WJC report, Group B, Day 1

By Simon Richard

The following is a report on teams of Group B, Canada, Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Ukraine, playing in Helsinki on the first day of the tournament.

Czechs are serious contender

The Czech team easily won 8-0 against Ukraine on the 26th. Before the game, Czech assistant coach Marian Jelinek said that his team is stronger than last year. His goal is to win any medal, which in fact could be a low goal, considering the presence of the likes of Jiri Hudler, Michal Barinka, Martin Vagner, and Rostislav Olesz on the roster. Jelinek said his key players are Jiri Hudler and 16-year-old goalkeeper phenom Marek Schwarz. He added, “Schwarz is seen by Czech journalists as the new Hasek.”

Before the game, asked if he was affected by the serious neck injury he suffered about two years ago, Hudler said he is not 100% but 1000% in shape! A few hours later, he scored an amazing goal, skating from the middle of the ice right to the goal. Hudler said he realized a dream to play in NHL. “I thought I was dreaming the first time I went in Detroit Red Wings room, having guys like Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman next to me.”

And what about Canada?

In the old Helsinki Arena, fans went wild when the game between Finns and Canadians began. The Canadians played hard, coming out hitting, but Finns responded to every hit received. Team Canada has a bunch of superstars and Finns could not resist to the pressure of their opponents. They finally made a couple of mistakes and Canadians did not miss their chance. Fleury got a shotout. Finns should not be ashamed of the result.

Before the game, Sidney Crosby was asked if he realized a goal to make the WJC at the age of 16. “It is not my dream. My dream is to win a gold for Canada,” he responded.

That says it all. Mario Durocher, Canadian coach, said that he doesn’t have a first, second, or third line. He said he has 22 great players and wait for the contribution of each of them. That said, Durocher said his key player is Marc-Andre Fleury.

After the game, Fleury looked like he had not played. “I didn’t have a lot of shots,” he said. “The guys played very well and it is good for our confidence.”

Maxime Talbot, an other Pittsburgh Penguins prospect, said after the game that it was an important victory for Team Canada. “We wanted to begin strongly and we managed to do so. We worked very very hard, he added.” Talbot played as expected. He mainly played against the best line of the Finns and killed penalties with success.

This was an impressive win for Canadians. The young squad (13 players under 19) demonstrated they not have only skills but also character.

Finns not so disappointed

Hannu Aravirta, the coach of Finland, said before the game he thought his group has done what they could do to prepare the team for the championship.

“Our goal is not yet to win the gold but to be qualified among the first six teams. Then we will see for the next round. If we do our work correctly, we can get a medal.”

After the game, NY Islanders prospect Sean Bergenheim commented, “Team Canada is very strong. They worked hard and deserve the win. Nevertheless, I’m confident we cn beat them if we face them again later in the tournament.”

Hannu Toivonen had about the same words of his teammate. He noted that “Fleury was excellent when we had some chances, Canadians capitalized on mistakes we made.”

Defenseman Oskari Korpikari, selected by the Montreal Canadians at the last Entry Draft (9th round) said after the game he was not satisfied with the way he played. He said he knows this tournament is important for his career and that he has to play very well to have some chance to get a glance from the Habs scouts.

Simon Richard is the author of La Serie du siecle, Septembre 1972, a book about the Summit Series published in 2002. At the 2003 WJC, he collaborated for the Montreal newspaper La Presse. This year, he is collaborating with Radio-Canada.