OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC -- The 2015 IIHF World Championship gets underway on Friday in the Czech Republic. Tyler Ennis and Canada take on Latvia (10:15 a.m. ET, TSN), while the United States squad faces off with Finland (10:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN).
Canada is in Pool A along with Latvia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and France. All Pool A preliminary round games will be played at O2 Arena in Prague.
Team USA will be based in Ostrava, and their Pool B opponents are: Finland, Russia, Norway, Slovakia, Denmark, Belarus and Slovenia.
The preliminary round continues until May 12, with the medal-round running from May 14-17. The bronze and gold-medal games will take place on Sunday, May 17 in Prague.
In preparation for the tournament, USA and Canada have been in Vienna since Saturday with each playing an exhibition game against Austria. Here’s what you need to know:
* Canada’s roster is fairly set with the recent additions of defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Patrick Wiercioch. They’re still looking for a goalie and a defenseman and, possibly, an actual winger as they have an abundance of centermen playing the wing. More on that in a bit.
* The last time Czech Republic hosted the World Championship, in 2004, Canada won gold, but they haven’t made it past the quarterfinals and played for a medal at this event in the past five years.
* Head coach Todd McLellan has a few offensive pairs he seems to like and is presently holding auditions for wingers that make each line click. One line he hasn’t tinkered with is Claude Giroux between Tyler Seguin and Tyler Ennis. That line has been firing on all cylinders from the start. Giroux brings great vision and decision-making, while Seguin and Ennis both possess a lot of speed. And don’t forget about Seguin’s great shot and Ennis’ gritty attitude. McLellan loves the line for their aggressive attack and high-level skill.
* Austria kept Canada on their toes during their exhibition game, taking the lead twice before Ennis and Seguin had a two-on-one early in the second period. Ennis was looking to pass nearly the entire way, but ended up taking the shot himself and scored top shelf to tie the game at two. Canada eventually won 4-2, but not before exposing some weaknesses, mostly loose play in the neutral zone that allowed far too many odd-man rushes for Austria and guys still finding their way playing out of position.
Canada is more than happy to have so many talented players on this team, and the challenge for them will be finding combinations that fit and guys willing to play different roles than they might on their respective NHL teams.
“You know it’s tough playing a role or position that doesn’t come natural to you,” McLellan said. “These guys are all here because they want to win and are committed to doing what it takes to help make that happen.”
* Team USA now has 11 forwards, eight defenseman and two goalies. They’re looking to add four forwards and a goalie over the next few days to complete their roster.
* Jack Eichel is the first draft-eligible player to be named to USA’s World Championship team since Phil Housley did it in 1982 before being selected sixth overall in the NHL Draft by the Sabres.
* USA defeated Austria 4-1 in their exhibition game on Tuesday. Moving forward, their focus will be on execution, finding consistency and building chemistry. There were a lot of missed connections due to unfamiliarity both of the systems head coach Todd Richards wants them to implement as well as the particular guys they’re playing with and knowing their tendencies. At practice on Wednesday, there was a lot of attention paid to pace, timing and details.
* Auston Matthews, who was part of USA’s World Junior Team this past January and named MVP at the U18 World Championship last weekend, played in the exhibition game as USA was short a forward. Already being touted as the top pick in the 2016 Draft, the 17-year-old Matthews was in Switzerland after helping the USA win U18 gold. He wasn’t named to the team, but earned the opportunity to test the waters and gain the experience competing at the men’s level. To his credit, Matthews’ scored and didn’t look out of place.
* With five players fresh out of college – Eichel (BU), Jimmy Vesey (Harvard), Dylan Larkin (Michigan), Mike Reilly (Minnesota) and Alex Lyon (Yale) – this is technically the most inexperienced Men’s World Championship team USA Hockey has assembled in recent memory and even not-so-recent memory. But according to Jim Johannson, head of the USA Hockey selection committee, it was by design. “Because of the special and unique talents these younger guys have, it made a lot of sense to start with them and build around them with the NHL players available to us. While they may not have experience playing at this level, they certainly have enough international experience and a high enough skill level for us to be comfortable putting them out there with a belief that they will succeed.”
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