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Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team a work in progress

After its latest get together at the Channel One Cup in Moscow, the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team remains a shapeless bunch.

A handful of candidates have distinguished themselves, but with exactly 60 days remaining until Canada opens up the men’s tournament at the Winter Games against Switzerland in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Feb. 15, general manager Sean Burke still has more questions than answers to work through as he constructs his 25-player roster.

In Moscow, Burke watched the latest group to represent Canada at a pre-Olympic tournament open with a 4-2 win against South Korea on Wednesday and close with a pair of losses, 4-1 to the Czech Republic on Friday and 2-0 to Russia on Saturday.

“We learned a lot this week,” Burke said. “But we’re searching for ways to wins games. I will take some time and review the video from the three games, but my immediate reaction to how the strong the effort was and the intensity we showed should gave us a chance [in Pyeongchang]. But we need to find some scoring, some finish in the lineup.” 

Canada failed to score in the final 88 minutes and 18 seconds after forward Matt Ellison of Duncan, B.C. gave his team a 1-0 lead on the powerplay against the Czechs midway in the second period.

Goalie Scrivens believes in group

“We have to be happy with the effort, and a lot of our execution, but obviously not satisfied with the result,” Canadian goalie Ben Scrivens said.

“When you take a step back from the tournament, as a whole we did a lot of good things. We’ve got to find a way to get some greasy ones and I have no doubt that this group will be able to do that.” 

Scrivens started the opening and closing games of the tournament. He played well as did backup Barry Brust in his outing against the Czechs, in which the opposition scored two late-game, empty net goals. In the tight-checking affair against Russia, Canada was outshot 16-15, but held Russia without a goal until Nikita Nestorov scored on the power play early in the third period.

The Canadian team was without two strong candidates in defenceman Karl Stollery of Camrose, Alta. and Edmonton’s Gilbert Brule, a forward. Both were banged-up and as a result were replaced by defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani of Ile Bizard, Que. and forward Quinton Howden of Oakbank, Man.

Looking for a spark

The lack of goal scoring and the fact Russia’s Kontintental Hockey League is not on break next week are main reasons why Burke will overhaul his roster for the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland, which runs from Boxing Day to New Year’s Eve.

KHLers made up 19 of the 25-player roster for Channel One Cup. The Canadians are the defending champions in Davos. This year’s tournament also will see the Swiss national team, host HC Davos, Dinamo Riga (Latvia), Mountfield HK (Czech Republic) and HPK Hameenlinna (Finland).

Burke will employ the Spengler Cup opportunity to fill out his roster for the final pre-Olympic tournament with three or four AHL-contract players and a couple of NCAA talents in Dylan Sikura and Notre Dame’s Jake Evans.

Forward thinking

The 22-year-old Sikura had been tapped to play for Canada at the Karjala Cup in Helsinki last month, but he was injured the weekend before and as a result had to withdraw his services. Sikura, 22, is an offensive whiz from Aurora, Ont. and a sixth-round (178th overall) selection in the 2014 NHL draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. He has nine goals and 22 points in 15 games for Northeastern University, in this his senior season.

The 21-year-old Evans, a forward, is from Toronto and a Montreal Canadiens prospect, selected in the seventh round (207th overall) in the 2014 draft. He also is in his fourth U.S. college year, having scored seven goals and 28 points in 20 games for Notre Dame this fall.

After the Spengler Cup concludes, Burke will fly to Buffalo to catch the playoff round in the 2018 world junior tournament. He has not committed to using any of the country’s top teenagers for the Olympic Games yet and will no doubt have a better idea after scouting the under-20 event if one or two of the youngsters can help out the senior national team.

Then, the personnel decisions have to be made by Burke and the coaching staff. Hockey Canada tentatively will announce its 25-player men’s Olympic roster on Jan. 9 and then hold a training camp as well as play a pair of exhibition games in Riga before arriving in South Korea.

CBC | Sports News