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An Avalanche of Chemistry on Team Canada

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

In international tournaments where there is often little time for North American players to get accustomed to each other's on-ice tendencies, building chemistry quickly is key.

Entering the 2015 IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic, the opportunity to have a full line combination that has tons of previous of chemistry is already there for Team Canada and head coach Todd McLellan.

The Colorado Avalanche will have four of its players on Canada's roster at this year's tournament, which includes forwards Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan O'Reilly. The offensive trio has been teammates together for the past two seasons at the NHL level and has even played a few times on the same line.

"That would be cool," Duchene said of the possibility of an all-Avs line. "I don’t know what he (McLellan) is going to do, but we’ll see.”

Still, having several familiar faces on the team, which also includes Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie, could make the adjustment to the international style of play and the larger ice surface a bit easier.

Putting Duchene and O'Reilly on a line together might just be too juicy of a prospect for Canada to pass up. With O'Reilly playing on the wing and Duchene at center, the 2009 NHL Draft picks recorded career highs in scoring in the 2013-14 campaign with O'Reilly notching 64 points and Duchene registering 70 points.

The duo was separated for much of this past season as Colorado head coach Patrick Roy moved O'Reilly back to his natural position of center to give the club a more balanced attack.

"Obviously Ryan and I played together last year a lot, and we have great chemistry," Duchene said. "I played with Nate a little bit too and I know what Tyson brings, so if we get thrown together we know it will be familiar."

Barrie said the young players' chemistry with the Avs could easily transfer over to Team Canada.

"We have a good, young team here (in Colorado), and we’re all pretty tight so it’s going to be a lot of fun," Barrie said. "I think if you look at the roster, we’ll be contending and they (Canada) do every year. I’m really looking forward to it."

MacKinnon is looking forward to spending a few more weeks with his Avalanche teammates before they go their separate ways for summer vacations and offseason training.

"It’s cool. It’s always good to share experiences together," MacKinnon said. "Throughout the season we see a lot of each other. Now at Worlds, it’s always good to get as much experience as you can overseas and internationally. I think it’s going to help our game over here too.”

Always one of the favorites in international play, if not the favorite, Canada looks to end its medal-less drought in the tournament when preliminary games begin in Prague and Ostrava on Friday. While Canada has attained gold at the last two Olympics (2010 and 2014), the country hasn't won the World Championship since 2007 and hasn't medaled in the event since 2009 (silver).

This year's talented Canada squad also features 2015 NHL All Stars Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks), Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins), Aaron Ekblad (Florida Panthers), Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers) and Tyler Seguin (Dallas Stars), but it is still going to be a tough test for the Canadians to knock off defending champion Russia and the other European powerhouses to get back to the podium.

"I mean with our talent over there, we’re always going to be the favorite. We have some exceptional players, and it’s going to be a real challenge," said MacKinnon, who was a member of last year's team that lost in the quarterfinals to Finland. "Russia always has good guys; they take that very seriously. I remember last year, [Evgeni] Malkin flew over there after the second round (of the Stanley Cup Playoffs) just to play in the final game… so it’s going to be a tough tournament.”

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