Volume 92, Issue 99
Wednesday, April 7, 1999
Czechs squeak by Canada
By John Dinner
The Canadian men's national hockey team is different from any other country's national team.
In Canada, the team consists mainly of spare parts Canadian players hoping to catch on somewhere else or attempting to jump-start a stalled career. Such was the case Monday night when the Canadians took on the national team from the Czech Republic in the first of three consecutive games. The Czechs took the opening contest 5-4 before heading to Guelph yesterday and Ottawa tonight.
Included on the roster were 15-year-old phenomenon Jason Spezza of the Brampton Battalion in the Ontario Hockey League and London native Trevor Gallant. Both were added to the roster since the team was short on players due to injury and the fact players had been signed to pro contracts with the National Hockey League and their minor league affiliates.
"Heading into the playoffs teams are always looking to add to their line-ups with junior and college players," said Brian McNamara, general manager of the Grand Rapids Griffins of the International Hockey League. "These guys are better suited to step right in and make a contribution. They've been playing at a high level all year."
Already signed to the NHL from this year's Canadian team include Calgary Flames' goaltender Fred Braithewaite and Dallas Stars' defenceman Doug Lister.
"We turn over our players every year. We have only one player returning from last year," said Canadian head coach Mike Johnston. "Because we focus from year to year instead of a four-year plan for the Olympics we have become one of the best development teams."
While still being a developmental team, Canada is still one of the top teams in the world grabbing another Spengler Cup in December.
"We're still the team to beat. Everyone still gets up to play the Canadians because they know it's our national game," Johnston said. "The European pro leagues take breaks during the season so their best players can play in the international tournaments. The NHL will never do that, but we still are able to ice teams with a lot of heart and pride which will work hard to represent Canada."
One of the players showing a lot of heart on the Canadian side was Warren Norris, who scored three goals Monday, including one with 23 seconds left, pulling Canada within one goal.
"This team provides a lot of opportunities for Canadian players. I think you develop faster with this team than with a minor pro team," Norris said. "You play against some of the best in the world and the travel schedule is gruelling. It really tests your mental toughness. If you can play well here, you're prepared to play well anywhere."
Copyright © The Gazette 1999