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Canada's McDavid gets assist in return from injury

by Chris Stevenson

OTTAWA -- Canada forward Connor McDavid shook off the rust after a five-week layoff in a 5-2 win against Sweden on Sunday in an exhibition game ahead of the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

McDavid, 17, played for the first time since breaking a bone in his right hand in a fight while playing for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League on Nov. 11. He had an assist on Canada's fourth goal, scored by Anaheim Ducks prospect Shea Theodore, in front of 13,826 at Canadian Tire Centre.

"Not playing in 40 days, you're about as rusty as you can possible get," McDavid said. "I thought my legs felt pretty good. The game speed was pretty high. Some plays happened pretty quick, but overall I thought it went all right."

Projected to be a top pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, McDavid played on a line with Ottawa Senators forward Curtis Lazar and forward Nick Ritchie, an Anaheim Ducks prospect.

Canada coach Benoit Groulx said he thought McDavid's play improved in the second half of the game.

"I thought he was rusty a little bit at first, but as the game went along he showed some good things out there," Groulx said. "He showed speed. He went by a couple of defensemen taking pucks to the net. I think he had a great second half of the game. It's good to see him back playing his style after such a long time being sidelined.

"I like the three of them, with Nick Ritchie. I thought they were a good unit."

McDavid was noticeable because of his speed and his puck-handling. His best scoring chance came with about a minute to go in the second period when he cut in off the right wing around Sweden defenseman Oliver Kylington, another top 2015 draft prospect.

That gave McDavid some room in the slot in front of Sweden goaltender Samuel Ward, but McDavid's shot went over the crossbar.

McDavid didn't shy away from physical play. He hit Sweden forward Lucas Wallmark with a shoulder check on his first shift and delivered another solid hit against defenseman Julius Bergman five minutes into the game. McDavid also took a heavy hit from behind from Sweden forward Axel Holmstrom.

"Got hit pretty good there from behind. A little cheap shot, but I was all right," McDavid said. "Throwing a couple of hits, it's all part of the Canadian way and playing for the country. It brings something out of you."

Groulx said the physical play was important for McDavid in his return.

"He was involved physically. Obviously they wanted to play him hard also," Groulx said. "It's good to see it's out of the way. He knows, 'I'm back now. I can battle through that.' It was nice to see that."

McDavid had 16 goals and 51 points in 18 games for Erie prior to his injury.

Lazar, who will be McDavid's roommate during the tournament, said he told McDavid not to be so self-critical.

"He's so hard on himself. I told him to just relax and have fun," Lazar said. "I had that partial break there and I should have probably tried to score, but I just tried to lay it in there for a rebound for him. It was good for him to get that assist. We're going to need him to be a big part of this team to be successful. I just want him to go out there and play."

Canada has its final pre-tournament game Tuesday against Switzerland, and then opens the 11-day tournament Friday with a Group A game against Slovakia at Bell Centre in Montreal.

In another exhibition game Sunday, the United States got goals from five different players in a 5-2 win against Germany in Kingston, Ontario. Jack Eichel, also projected to be a top pick at the 2015 draft, did not dress for the U.S.

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