By Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press
MINSK, Belarus – From coach Dave Tippett’s viewpoint, Team Canada struggled through a 6-1 drubbing of Italy on Friday at the world hockey championship.
Canada won the game, its fourth in a row since opening the tournament with a shootout loss to France, but Tippett didn’t offer much in the way of a positive review.
“We try to get better every game,” Tippett said. “Today I would say that there was very few things in that game we could use to get better other than we capitalized on chances. So we’ll put that game behind us and look at it as fortunate to capitalize on a lot of those chances and we look forward to Sweden.”
Sunday’s game against Sweden is Canada’s measuring-stick game in the preliminary round. Italy, much like Denmark a day earlier, didn’t provide much of a test.
“A game that I didn’t think we played very well, but we capitalized on some chances,” Tippett said. “I think our players recognized we were (playing) back-to-back and (were) trying to get through this game.”
Canada started slow before Joel Ward scored 13:07 into the first period. Italian coach Tom Pokel felt the game changed when Canada’s Alex Burrows was injured on a knee-on-knee hit from Joachim Ramoser with 56 seconds left.
Burrows left the game and did not return with a right leg injury. Ramoser was given a five-minute major penalty and an automatic game misconduct, and Cody Hodgson scored on the ensuing Canadian power play early in the second.
“That obviously took some momentum away from us when you’re killing for five minutes against a strong power-play team,” said Pokel, a native of Green Bay, Wisc. “The third and fourth goals just killed us and took everything away from us.”
Jason Chimera scored the third on a two-on-one with Mark Scheifele, and then Kyle Turris added the fourth while short-handed just over three minutes later after a perfect pass from Matt Read. Hodgson’s second of the game and tournament-leading sixth goal made it 5-0 later in the period.
Along the way, Tippett was not happy about Canada’s troubling trend of taking a lot of penalties. Four infractions in the second period gave Italy what he called “a bunch of extra practice time … that was not ideal.”
Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., native David Borrelli scored for Italy 1:12 into the third to break up goaltender James Reimer’s shutout. Brayden Schenn added a late insurance goal.
Despite the final margin, Tippett was far from satisfied.
“We got through it, and the third period we managed to go out and get through that too and let’s move on,” he said.
Asked about specifics, Tippett wasn’t happy with “misplay in the D-zone, misplay on puck play, missed coverage.” He said it was one of those games that’s hard for players to get mentally engaged.
In addition to losing Burrows, Canada has had its share of trouble with mouth injuries. Defenceman Braydon Coburn lost some teeth, winger Troy Brouwer needed some stitches and captain Kevin Bieksa took another shot to the mouth a few days after chipping a tooth against the Czech Republic.
“We had a lot of cuts,” Tippett said. “There was a lot of Shrap metal from this game.”
In addition to that, Canada was without defenceman Jason Garrison, who did not dress because of an illness. After Burrows went out, just 18 skaters remained.
“It’s tough to see guys get injured over here,” Bieksa said. “It’s a tough game over here, there’s been some injuries and you’ve got to stay healthy. You’ve got to have your team get through injury-free.”
If there’s any advantage to this happening now, it’s that there’s time before Canada faces an elimination game in the quarter-finals.
“You want (to) get all your bad games out early and injuries and maybe flu bug and stuff and get it done with and move on,” said Chimera, who earned player of the game honours.
Though it wasn’t a game Tippett was particularly proud of, the result was there. Canada is 4-0-1 going into Sunday’s showdown with Sweden that will likely determine first place in Group A.
Judging by Friday’s performance, this team is still a work in progress.
“We’re just starting to figure it out, I think,” Bieksa said. “Obviously there’s the chemistry and everything that’s developing, but it’s a different game over here. We’ve got a very young team, and a lot of guys it’s their first time over here. A couple older guys it’s our first time over. And it takes a while to kind of get used to the game and figure out the plays the other team is trying to make.”
Notes: Reimer stopped 21 of the 22 shots he faced, giving up just one goal on a tip in front. … Borrelli is one of 10 Canadian-born players on Italy’s roster. The others are Dan Bellissimo, Daniel Sullivan, Brian Ihnacak and Davide Nicoletti from Toronto, Giulio Scandella from Montreal, Nate DiCasmirro from Aitkokan, Ont., Dan Tudin from Orleans, Ont., Trevor Johnson from Trail, B.C., and Vince Rocco from Woodbridge, Ont.