UFA, Russia — Canada’s punishing brand of hockey is unloved by European teams and gets them into trouble with the authorities at the world junior championship.
It’s also a style that produced an important second win of the tournament for Canada on Friday, even though there may be a price to pay for that victory.
A 6-3 comeback win over Slovakia hinged not only on Anthony Camara’s crushing check on a Slovak player in the second period, but the Canadians rallying around what they perceived as the injustice of his ejection.
Canada was down three forwards early in the second period because both Camara and JC Lipon had been ejected from the game by then, and Boone Jenner was serving the second of a three-game suspension assessed prior to the tournament.
Trailing 3-1 midway through the second, Canada rattled off five unanswered goals to win and sit atop Pool B at 2-0.
Ryan Strome led with a pair of goals, while defenceman Morgan Rielly contributed a goal and an assist. Mark Scheifele scored the go-ahead goal with less than a minute to go in the second period. Canada also got goals from Ty Rattie and captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Goaltender Malcolm Subban made 25 saves on 28 shots for his second win of the tournament. Defenceman Xavier Ouellet had two assists, including one on Scheifele’s goal.
The International Ice Hockey Federation choosing not to further discipline Camara, whose check on Patrik Luza sent the Slovak defenceman off the ice on a stretcher, indicates the hit was legal. Replays show Luza had his head down when the Barrie Colt levelled him along the boards.
Canada didn’t escape the long arm of the IIHF’s law, however. Lipon will have a hearing on Saturday morning for his hit on Tomas Mikus behind Slovakia’s net in the first period.
If the Kamloops Blazer is suspended, Canada will be minus both him and Jenner for Sunday’s game against the United States.
But Friday’s game turned on the reaction by both countries by the Camara check.
While Canada was galvanized after losing a second forward in the game, Slovakia’s emotions over watching their teammate leave the ice on a stretcher got the better of them. Rielly and Rattie scored power-play goals to tie the game.
"Once that hit took place and Anthony came to the bench and we realized it was a clean hit and there’d be no call and then there was a call, I think our players rallied around that and I think as coaches we use that as a rallying point," Spott said.
"Dirty" has been applied to the Canadian team, most recently by Mikus who used the term to describe both the hit on him and Luza.
"In my eyes, the two hits were dirty," Mikus said. "I didn’t see the second one, so I can’t comment on it, but there was … blood in the face so not clean."
In an English translation of a story published on the eve of the tournament, Russian forward Nail Yakupov is quoted as using "dirty" to describe the Canadian team. Since Yakupov has not yet spoken to media so far at this tournament, it’s difficult to know whether that is what he meant.
Nevertheless, the Canadians are seen as a team that tries to win by intimidation.
"Canada are aware when they play more physical, the European teams basically don’t really handle it well," Slovakia’s coach Ernest Bokros said.
Lipon’s hearing will be Canada’s second for this tournament. Jenner’s suspension came down Dec. 25 for his check on Swedish defenceman Jesper Pettersson in pre-tournament game. Jenner’s hit was late and Pettersson suffered a broken wrist and dislocated shoulder.
Strome made no apologies for Canada’s hard-hitting ways.
"We play the game hard," the Niagara IceDogs forward said. "That’s what we’ve always done."
One of the game goals Spott sets for his players is limiting minor penalties to four or less.
He conceded that Lipon’s stick was high on Mikus, but pointed out that Mikus laid face down on the ice while Lipon was turfed.
Mikus was back on the ice for his next shift, however, and scored a power-play goal to make it 2-0 for his country after the first period.
"The question we have as a staff is ‘if you embellish, does that assist (the severity of the penalty)?"’ Spott asked. "Our boys don’t lie down. Canadian guys don’t lie down. They’ll drag themselves off the ice before they lie down."
Gamesmanship aside, Canada passed their first real test of the tournament.
Slovakia had taken Russia to overtime in their tournament opener before falling 3-2. Against Canada, they were the faster, smarter and harder-working team in the opening period.
Marko Dano scored twice in the game and Adam Nagy made 24 saves in Slovakia’s net.
"In an event like this, you’ve got to find different ways to win and tonight was about dealing with adversity early and staying true to our tasks," Spott said.
"I give our kids a lot of credit. They had to be resilient and ultimately find a way to win and they were able to do that."
Russia edged the Americans 2-1 in the other Pool B game Friday. With five points, the hosts sat second behind Canada with six.
The Czech Republic downed Finland 3-1 and Sweden edged Switzerland 3-2 in a shootout in Pool A games.