PRAGUE (Reuters) - Canada’s dominating performance at the world championships in Prague showed that its ice hockey kids are all right after the gold medal winners tore through the tournament without a loss.
Canada won its first world title since 2007 with a 6-1 demolition of Russia on Sunday after entering this year’s tournament looking as though it was focused more on developing young talent rather than taking home gold.
But the tournament’s second-youngest team with an average player age of 25 - behind only the United States which averaged 24 - went unbeaten and scored 66 goals in 10 games including a 9-0 rout of Belarus in the quarter-final.
The group’s goal-fest made it the highest-scoring Canadian team since the NHL began sending players to the annual tournament in 1977.
While the leadership of captain Sidney Crosby, Dallas Stars’ veteran Jason Spezza and standout goaltending of Arizona Coyote Mike Smith gave Canada a strong base, it was the play by the likes of 23-year-olds Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, and 19-year-olds Aaron Ekblad and Nathan MacKinnon, that kept Team Canada perfect.
“We have a lot of great young players ... Each and every day as a team we jell and we bond and it’s been fun,” said Ekblad, the top pick in the 2014 draft by the Florida Panthers.
Hall led the tournament with seven goals and finished third in scoring, tied with 24-year-old Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene and a point behind his Edmonton Oilers’ teammate Jordan Eberle, who turned 25 on May 15.
Any worries that Canada’s young guns lacked the international experience needed to win a world title disappeared in their opening game against Latvia. MacKinnon scored halfway through the first period to open the scoring and had a pair of assists in a 6-1 win.
The goal-scoring barrage never relented. Six of the tournament’s top eight scorers wore the maple leaf on their jerseys. The 2-0 semi-final win over the hosts Czech Republic marked the only time Canada was held to under four goals during the tournament.
Seguin, the Dallas Stars’ second-leading scorer this season, notched a hat trick in the quarter-final rout of Belarus.
“Hockey Canada has done a great job of grabbing these players at 15, 16, 17 years old, before they are professionals, and teaching them about the pressures of playing for your country,” Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, on a scouting mission in Prague, told Reuters.
“These guys get here and it doesn’t matter that they are 21, 22, 23 years old they are prepared ... I’m not surprised by their performance.”
Additional reporting by Alan Crosby, editing by Gene Cherry