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Hlinka gold a strong springboard into season

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

"We had confidence in our game and we were real close. Our first two games started like a team that hadn't played together. Our third game, we had line combinations we were set with, all our systems started clicking in. It became habit and natural. That's what you saw in the third game and gold-medal game."
-- Bob Boughner

They flew from Calgary to Frankfurt, Germany; followed by another flight to Vienna. And then it was a 90-minute bus ride to Piestany, Slovakia.

For the Canadian contingent that traveled to the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament, the trip home about 10 days later, which followed about the same route, was far more palatable thanks to the gold medals they took home with them.

For the second-straight year, Canada beat Russia to claim the gold medal. It's the fifth win in six years and 12th gold in 14 tournaments.

The 2009 edition was led by the line of Tyler Seguin (3-7-10), Tyler Toffoli (3-5-8) and John McFarland (5-2-7). The trio finished 1-2-3 on the team in scoring, respectively, combining for 11 goals and 25 points in four games.

Most of those numbers are skewed by Canada's last two games, a 9-0 rout of the Czech Republic in the last round-robin game, and a 9-2 beating of Russia for the gold. Still, it was a dominant effort for a team that only had three days together before its first exhibition game.

"We had one practice (and) three intrasquad games," Canada coach Bob Boughner told NHL.com.

That lack of cohesion showed in the early part of the tournament. In their tournament opener against Sweden, Canada trailed 1-0 after one period.

"As a coaching staff we went in there (after the first) and laid it hard on the players," Boughner said. "We said, 'Who do you think you are? Nobody's won a gold medal in this room. This tournament is far from being over.' We called on the character and leadership on this team to go out and prove it and show how a real Canadian team played. Get them a little mad, and they really came out hard in the second and played a better game."

Defenseman Brandon Gormley, a QMJHL rookie all-star last season with the Moncton Wildcats, had a goal and an assist in the second as Canada took a 2-1 lead, and after Sweden tied it in the third, Seguin scored a power-play goal to clinch the 3-2 victory.

A day later against Switzerland, Canada found itself in trouble again, tied 2-2 after one period. Jeffrey Skinner, who had a team-high 6 goals, scored 2:16 into the second and Canada rolled to a 6-3 victory.

That seemed to spark Canada through its final two games.

"Our first two games were our toughest games," Boughner said. "The team hadn't had a lot of time to play. If you lose one you're playing for bronze, or you might not get a medal at all. … If you lose that first game you can screw up your whole tournament hopes. That was a lot of pressure. The second game, we outplayed the Swiss, we hit some posts and then it really opened up for us. Once we won some games and we knew we needed one win for the gold medal. ... We had confidence in our game and we were real close. Our first two games started like a team that hadn't played together. Our third game, we had line combinations we were set with, all our systems started clicking in. It became habit and natural. That's what you saw in the third game and gold-medal game."

One of the biggest surprises to Boughner was Jaden Schwartz, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound center who played last season with the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. He was in the top-five in the SJHL last season with 34 goals and 76 points, and he had 2 goals and 4 points at the Hlinka. He'll play for WHL's Tri-City Americans this season.

"The one kid who was under the radar was Jaden Schwartz,"  Boughner said. "He's a gamer, and every game he did something that got the team going -- scored a goal, blocked a shot, threw a hit."

With 21 of the 22 players on the roster eligible for the 2010 Entry Draft, they'll enter a pressure-packed season on a good note.

"A lot of these kids, it's special for them because it's their first chance to represent Canada in a world tournament," said Boughner. "Just making the team is a tough thing. Going there and winning the gold, coming back, every kid should go into the season with confidence. Whether you're on a rebuilding team, whether you're going for (a championship), the experience of being in a pressure-packed game is a huge asset for these kids."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com
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