It’s Fucale against the Finns

- December 28th, 2014

MONTREAL — Zach Fucale and Eric Comrie were eating breakfast on Sunday at the team hotel and watching the Spengler Cup when coach Benoit Groulx approached the pair.
He gave Canada’s goaltenders the news many had expected.
Fucale will start in goal against Finland on Monday when Canada plays its third game of the 2015 world junior.
“Both have played really well, so it’s just a question of coming back with a solid goalie tomorrow, and we think Zach is the guy,” Groulx said.
“It was a very brief conversation. I just told Zach that he was in. The way we have been playing, both of them want to have the net, but they know how it is.
“Eric is a pro and there is no issue there. We have two competitors, two very good goalies.”
Fucale, who became Canada’s starter at the 2014 world junior, posted a 12-save shutout against Slovakia in an 8-0 Canada win on Friday; 24 hours later, Comrie stopped 17 shots in Canada’s 4-0 win against Germany.
Canada did not practise on Sunday.
Fucale and his teammates could make a bit of history against Finland, as Canada never has started the world junior with three consecutive shutouts. Finland is the defending gold medallist, but has managed to score just two goals in two losses.
A year ago, Finland beat Canada 5-1 in the semifinal before knocking off Sweden in the championship game. That loss resonates with Fucale, a Montreal Canadiens prospect.
“I would not say it is fresh in my mind, but I remember what happened,” Fucale said. “I learned from it. It certainly is going to serve as a motivator for tomorrow’s game.
“I learned a lot (in the tournament overall). The competitive level is really high and you have to make sure you play as a team and you stick together all the time, no matter what happens. We have that this year.”

McDavid’s zeroes don’t worry Groulx

- December 27th, 2014

MONTREAL — About the last thing Benoit Groulx feels when he looks at Connor McDavid’s stats line is concern.
McDavid didn’t have a point in Canada’s first game of the 2015 world junior, an 8-0 victory against Slovakia on Friday night.
“He had chances,” Groulx, Canada’s head coach, said. “If we are honest with him, he should have at least goal a game. He has had some unbelievable chances.
“He wants to do good. It is a matter for him, I think, to relax.
“We have to understand he has been sidelined for 5-6 weeks and coming back in a tournament like this is not easy. I am not worried at all.”
Canada plays Germany on Saturday night at the Bell Centre and Groulx said he has no plans to change his lines. So McDavid, who was not made available to speak to reporters on Saturday morning, again will be between captain Curtis Lazar and Nick Ritchie.
Against Slovakia, the 17-year-old McDavid had a team-high six shots on goal and was 50% in the faceoff circle, winning six of 12 draws. It was his first official game since he suffered a broken bone in his right hand during a game on Nov. 11 with the Erie Otters, though he was able to work out some rust in a couple of exhibition games for Canada.
Similar to most players who are on another level, McDavid carries a lot on his shoulders. Adding to the matter is the scrutiny involving McDavid and United States centre Jack Eichel, who is the only player who could knock McDavid from the No. 1 spot in the NHL draft next June.
“The big story of this tournament is McDavid and Eichel, and we all know what kind of player (McDavid) is and the expectations he has for himself are big,” Canada forward Robby Fabbri said.
“When he has a game like last night where he had all those chances but nothing went in, it is tough for any player. He sets his goals high and when he does not reach them he is frustrated.”
“If he does not get the amount of points he wants, he thinks he does not play that great sometimes, but he plays great every night.”
Goalie Eric Comrie will start against Germany, which will play its first game of the tournament. Comrie, apparently, is not the chatterbox that fellow netminder Zach Fucale is.
“Eric can talk a lot, but sometimes Zach is the guy who kind of sometimes you have to tell him to be quiet,” defenceman Madison Bowey said with a smile.
Against Germany in the history of the world junior, Canada is 12-0 and has outscored the Germans 67-18. At the 2014 world junior in Sweden, Canada thumped Germany 7-2.
“They are going on the forecheck and then they do (what) many Euro teams (try to do) — they try to clog you in the neutral zone and try to create turnovers,” Groulx said.
“We have to play our game, bring speed in the neutral zone. (Against Slovakia) we managed the puck well and we have to keep that going.”

With forwards, options abound for Canada’s coaching staff

- December 21st, 2014

OTTAWA — The depth among Canada’s forward lines was hammered home when lines for the exhibition game on Sunday night were revealed.
As expected, Connor McDavid will centre a line with Curtis Lazar on the right side, with Nick Ritchie playing the left wing when Canada plays Sweden in an exhibition game at the Canadian Tire Centre.
The trio was second on the depth chart, following the Max Domi-Sam Reinhart-Anthony Duclair grouping that was sharp against Russia on Friday night.
Third line? Nic Petan, coming off back-to-back 100-point seasons with Portland of the Western Hockey League, and Robby Fabbri, a goal machine with the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm, will flank centre Nick Paul.
Canada head coach Benoit Groulx never had it so good, and probably won’t again once the 2015 world junior ends.
“For me, it is all about options,” Groulx said following the morning skate.
“With Reinhart, Domi and Duclair, I thought they had a decent game in Toronto, but they were not able to get inside and make a difference so we want to give them another try, see how they play together.
“We want to give (McDavid and Lazar) a chance to see if they have chemistry, if they find each other at the right time and how they play. We look to have offence from each and every line.”
McDavid will play for the first time since suffering a broken bone in his right hand on Nov. 11 in a game with the Erie Otters. Ritchie, among the more effective power forwards in the OHL with the Peterborough Petes, will be the guy who does the dirty work.
“Ritchie is going to get in on the forecheck and bang some bodies and create some room for Davey,” Lazar said. “I’m just going to try to get open and see if he can find me a little bit and I’m just going to shoot the puck.
“Everyone is skilled on this team and everyone offers something that is going to lead to team success. I know for Connor it is a while since he has played, so we will ease him in there and go with it and see what happens. He is antsy and excited to get going.”
Canada’s fourth line remains intact from the 2-1 overtime loss against the Russians, with Frederik Gauthier between Lawson Crouse and Jake Virtanen. Brayden Point will be worked in as the 13th forward.
On the blue line, the pairs are: Darnell Nurse and Shea Theodore; Josh Morrissey and Madison Bowey; and Samuel Morin and Joe Hicketts. Dillon Heatherington is the seventh defenceman.
Morin and Hicketts are an interesting pair. Morin, at 6-foot-7 and 224 pounds, dwarfs the 5-foot-8, 186-pound Hicketts.
Eric Comrie will start in goal for Canada.
The Canadians wrap up their exhibition schedule on Tuesday in Montreal when they face Switzerland at the Bell Centre.
On Friday in Montreal, Canada, in search of its first gold medal at the world junior since 2009, will play Slovakia in its first game of the tournament with an 8 p.m. start.

Leafs willing to take time with Nylander

- December 19th, 2014

As much as the Maple Leafs like the progress William Nylander is making this season, patience remains the operative word.
“If he is ready next year, then great, we would love to have him,” Leafs general manager David Nonis said.
“If not, that’s not a problem either. The expectation of ours is he is going to work on his all-around game, he is going to work on the things that don’t come naturally to him.”
That has been happening in the Swedish Hockey League. Nylander, the eighth pick overall by the Leafs last June, has 19 points in 19 games with Modo. For the Leafs, though, there is more to what Nylander has been doing.
“He is stopping on pucks more than he is used to, and I think that is still part of his game he needs to work on. In terms of being able to play against men at a high level and produce, he has done it very well.”
Nylander, averaging 19 minutes three seconds of ice time a game, has eight goals and 11 assists, good for 24th in league scoring.
“It is a hard league to score in,” Nonis said. “They lock it down pretty good. The notion it is a big sheet makes it easier to score is not true. He has done a good job. His goals and points have not all been on the power play, which is something you look for. He is producing some five on five against some pretty good teams.
“He has done what we hoped he was going to do and speaking with his coaches, they are happy with his work ethic and how he has fit in.”
Nylander is one of three Leafs prospects expected to play in the 2015 world junior in Montreal and Toronto. Centre Frederik Gauthier with Canada and defenceman Rinat Valiev for Russia also are in the mix.
“They are going to have a good team,” Nonis said of Sweden. “What we want to see is (Nylander) to fit into that team. I think there will be some pressure on him because of where the tournament is, for him to try to do too much. If he does what he is capable of doing and fits in with his linemates and teammates, he is going to have a very good tournament.”
As for Gauthier? The Leafs’ first-rounder in 2013, 21st overall, is looking to play for Canada for a second consecutive winter.
“His pace has picked up, his skating has improved,” Nonis said.
“With Freddy, he has always been a guy who thinks defence first, which is actually quite admirable, and that has got him to where he is today. Then you have to start adding some offence. He is capable of that. If he can mix that in with the solid defensive play, hopefully he is able to stick with the team.
“Most players want to score, with Freddy, he would like to keep it out of his net first and then see if he can score secondary. He is capable putting up some points.”
In 15 games with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League since returning from a rib injury, Gauthier has 14 points (eight goals and six assists).
Valiev has recovered from a knee injury and has 25 points (five goals and 20 assists) in 23 games for Kootenay of the Western Hockey League.
“He has a pretty high ceiling,” Nonis said. “He has a lot of work to do as well and he is still raw in a lot of ways. Hopefully he sticks with Russia because I think he could be a factor.”

Senators sending Lazar to Canada for world junior

- December 18th, 2014

ST. CATHARINES — Curtis Lazar will get an opportunity to fulfill a wish that he made almost a year ago.
Hockey Canada got some good news from the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, as the National Hockey League club announced the 19-year-old forward is on his way to help Canada try to end its five-year gold drought at the world junior championship.
This was Lazar last January in Malmo, Sweden, after Canada finished fourth in the 2014 tournament: “I want to lead. If I’m in this tournament again next year, I want to bring out all the details. If you have a couple of bad shifts, you’re not going to make a difference in the game and ultimately the tournament.”
And this was Lazar to reporters on Thursday in Ottawa: “What I can get from this tournament depends on what I put into it. I’m going to put my heart and soul into that team, and hopefully I can bring that momentum back here to Ottawa.
Naturally, Hockey Canada is thrilled that Lazar will wear red and white again at the 2015 world junior in Montreal and Toronto.
“He is a winner, first of all,” Hockey Canada vice-president of hockey operations Scott Salmond said.
“He has won with his club team (a Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League last May). He is a leader. He has experience in the National Hockey League.
“He is a big piece of the puzzle, but he is a piece. He will come in here hopefully with a lot of confidence and a lot of experience of having been here last year. We expect him to be a leader, and we expect he is going to give our group a boost.”
Lazar will join his Canada teammates on Friday, but will not play that night in an exhibition game against Russia at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Word that the Sens are loaning him began to spread among the Canadian players as they practised at the Meridian Centre. Defenceman Josh Morrissey was a teammate of Lazar last winter in Malmo.
“Curtis brings everything, really,” Morrissey said. “He is an all-around player, he brings a lot to our team on the ice with his skills, and ability, but off the ice he brings tremendous leadership, he is a hard-working honest guy.
“It is pretty hard to find a guy smiling more than Curtis does. I have got to know him pretty well and it is always fun being around him, he is always bringing the group up and he is more than a welcome addition to this roster.”
With Lazar, Canada has seven returning players from last year, including Morrissey, goalie Zach Fucale and forwards Sam Reinhart, Connor McDavid, Nic Petan and Frederik Gauthier.
Lazar’s presence is a boost with news coming three days ago that the Vancouver Canucks would not loan forward Bo Horvat.
Canada earlier got forward Anthony Duclair from the New York Rangers, but were denied Jonathan Drouin by the Tampa Bay Lightning. There never was a chance Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon nor Florida Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad was going to be available.
Calgary Flames forward Sam Bennett was out of the running after he suffered a shoulder injury.
Lazar had seven points (three goals and four assists) in seven games for Canada, the third-most on the team, in the world junior last winter. He should take some heat off the expectations for 17-year-old phenom Connor McDavid.
Whether Lazar fits on the Canada roster as a centre or a winger remains uncertain.
“We’re not there yet in first line, second line, third line,” coach Benoit Groulx said. “I think we have many good forwards. We’ll see how it plays out. We’re not (there) in terms of lines, but one thing I know: He’s a major asset for our team.”
Lazar’s addition means three forwards will be cut. Forwards on the bubble include Jason Dickinson, Rourke Chartier, Michael Dal Colle and Lawson Crouse. There is no guarantee, either, for Gauthier despite his status as a returning player.
“I don’t think my spot is earned right now,” Gauthier said.
McDavid, meanwhile, said “I would think so” when he was asked if could play on Sunday when Canada meets Sweden in Ottawa in an exhibition game. That has been the target date for McDavid’s return to the roster from a broken bone in his right hand.
McDavid, Nic Petan and defenceman Joe Hicketts will not play against Russia. Fucale will start in goal.