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Lunch-bucket heroes

Team Canada's blue-collar bunch exactly what they're supposed to be

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- For the record, the plan doesn't always come together.

Team Canada may have owned the world junior podium for the last half of this decade, with five gold medals and a silver in six years, but on more than one occasion the difference between success and failure has been a good bounce, a brilliant netminder, a butt-ugly goal or just an old fashioned fear of losing.

Canada's Brayden Schenn thumps a Norwegian opponent Wednesday. Schenn, who scored four times and added an assist, has 10 points in his last two games.


Canada's Brayden Schenn thumps a Norwegian opponent Wednesday. Schenn, who scored four times and added an assist, has 10 points in his last two games.

But this much is certain after a spotless 3-0 start in Buffalo: These Canadian kids have come as advertised. Check that. Better than advertised.

Of course, since they all were weaned in a nation where silver sucks, the best laid plans of ice and men carry little weight in the WJHC preliminary dance. That the Canucks have so far dispatched the Russians, the Czechs and the Norwegians -- the latter hammered 10-1 Wednesday night at the HSBC Arena -- will be of no consequence when the heavy lifting of the medal round begins in earnest.

Still, it's worth noting that the blueprint minted by the Hockey Canada brass who so meticulously concocted this outfit has rarely been so spot-on. To paraphrase the infamous, crazy rant of former Phoenix Cardinals head coach Dennis Green, "Team Canada is who we thought they were."

Big, deep, relentless. Minus any marquee stars, the Canadians were to be hockey's form of erosion, wearing opponents down by coming wave after wave. And that's exactly what's happened.

The Czechs scored first on Tuesday night, only to have the Canadians storm back with seven straight goals from seven different players. The Canucks and Russians were tied 3-3 entering the third period in the tournament opener on Sunday, but the Ruskies wilted under the physical pounding in an eventual 6-3 loss.

The Norwegians? They were just fodder. No surprise. Just like the storyline of the Canadians to date.

"When you throw a team like this together and put all your preliminaries on paper, the reality is... that you don't know a whole lot about the players other than what other people are telling you or what you've seen from summer camp," said Team Canada head coach Dave Cameron. "So you throw them together with an idea or theme of how they're going to play. Distributing the scoring is one of the things we thought we were going to get."

In spades. The only pleasant fly in the ointment has been Brandon Wheat Kings' Brayden Schenn, who with a four-goal, five-point outburst against Norway now leads the tournament with 12 points, including six goals.

"From a coach's point of view," Cameron added, "it's comforting because it shows you that the team is buying into the style of play that gives them the best chance to win... that they know what their roles and responsibilities are."

Canadian captain Ryan Ellis was quick to concur.

"Absolutely," said the Windsor Spitfire defenceman. "We have the same goal in mind and everybody wants to win. (The coaching staff) laid it out on the table, what we have to do, and everybody's starting to do it bit by bit. Each game it gets better and better."

It's kinda humorous, however, how the other day Cameron dismissed the pre-tournament characterization of his charges as a lunch-bucket outfit. "That was more the media," the coach sniffed.

Hogwash. It was Cameron himself who promoted the blue-collar label. And why not? Remember, the Canadians are without the services of age-eligible players such as Edmonton's Taylor Hall, Boston's Tyler Seguin and Carolina's Jeff Skinner, just to name three.

Against the Norwegians, they were also without forwards Zach Kassian (suspended), Jaden Schwartz (lower body), Winnipeg's Cody Eakin (hand) and defenceman Calvin de Haan (lower body).

That's what has passed as adversity so far for the Canucks. "It's tough," said Ellis. "But adversity is always good, especially early in the tournament. You want to face it at some point (early) rather than the end."

Frankly, it's getting to the point where thoughts will begin to wander towards the medal round, even though the Canadians still have one preliminary round contest left with the potent Swedes on New Year's Eve. The victor will advance directly to the tournament semifinals on Monday, while a date in the quarter-finals Sunday awaits the loser.

Either way, it's about to get serious up in here.

"We're always throwing things together," Cameron said. "Have we finalized things yet? No, because we don't know the extent of the injuries. There's always ebbs and flows to the tournament. It's more important how you finish and your consistency."

Doesn't sound too sexy, right? It never did, even before they dropped the puck in Buffalo.

But it's working. Just like they said it would.

In Canada, we call it "Plan Eh".

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 30, 2010 C3

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