Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tavares getting most out of reduced ice time

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KOSICE, Slovakia -- There are personal sacrifices to be made for team success at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.

Every single Canadian player is averaging less ice time during the tournament than he received during the NHL season. No one is doing more with less than John Tavares, who leads the team with four goals and eight points despite spending less than 13 minutes per game on the ice.

The 20-year-old forward has no concerns about the way coach Ken Hitchcock has chosen to use him.

"We are obviously a really deep team so ice time has been pretty spread out," Tavares said Sunday. "I think I've found a good role for myself and understand what the coaching staff wants from me. I just try and bring that every game."

He's succeeded thus far with at least one point in each of Canada's five victories to open the tournament.

One benefit of using players less is that they should still be pretty fresh as the event transitions to its most important phase. Starting with today's final round-robin game against Sweden (TSN, 1:15 p.m.), Canada will need to play four times in seven days to capture gold.

"I think the more games we get to play the better," said forward Matt Duchene. "One thing that's different here is that the ice time is so spread out on our team. Even though you're playing a back-to-back or six games in 10 days, you're not playing the minutes you're used to playing.

"So it's not going to wear you down as much because the load is so equally distributed."

Hitchcock is also spreading the work among his goalies. He decided to give Jonathan Bernier his second straight start against Sweden after riding James Reimer for the first four games of the tournament.

The coach plans to decide which of the two will be his No. 1 man for the medal round after seeing Bernier one more time.

A key to Hockey Canada's program is that neither is likely to complain no matter how it turns out, just as Devan Dubnyk didn't ruffle any feathers even if he was unhappy about becoming the team's No. 3 goalie when Bernier arrived.

Personal rivalries must be set aside at a tournament like this. For example, Tavares and Duchene were both top-rated prospects in the 2009 draft -- Tavares went No. 1 to the Islanders, Duchene went No. 3 to Colorado -- and will likely always be compared with one another throughout their careers (amazingly, their NHL stat lines are virtually identical after two seasons).

"I think there's definitely a sense of competition there and I think it's good," said Duchene. "On these teams, you want to kind of let that go. Even though you're on the same team you're in different situations, playing on different lines. Last year (at the world championship) we were on the same line so you can't compete with each when you're on the same line.

"But we're going to always push each other."

The only reason Duchene finds himself without any points yet at this tournament is bad luck. He should have received primary assists on three goals here, but wasn't given credit by the referees on the ice.

Even though he expressed some frustration on his Twitter account after Saturday's 3-2 victory over Norway, he's willing to set aside personal statistics for something more important.

"I'll happily take zero points and a gold medal," said Duchene.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2011 C4

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