Recap Canada off to promising start after blanking Latvia in Olympic tuneup

Ben Scrivens makes 27 saves for the shutout as Canadians were outshot 27-23

Canada off to promising start after blanking Latvia in Olympic tuneup
Latvia's Mikelis Redlihs, left, and Canada's goalie Ben Scrivens fight for the puck during an exhibition hockey game in Riga, Latvia, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018. © Roman Koksarov/The Associated Press

By Tim Wharnsby, CBC Sports

After six days of meetings and more meetings as well as a handful of punishing practices, the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team finally hit the ice together for a game.

It was an exhibition outing against the Latvian national team, now coached by former Calgary Flames bench boss Bob Hartley.

The Canadians scored a hardworking 2-0 win in front of a raucous and loyal sold-out crowd of 10,300 at Arena Latvia.

They still have miles to skate and they know there are a few more gears they will have to find in order to contend for the gold medal against teams like the Olympic Athletes from Russia, Sweden and Finland. But for a curtain raiser, this was a promising beginning.

Even Hartley remarked that he was impressed with how little Canada turned over the puck and how well the Canadian players communicated with each other.

Scrivens strong in goal

Ben Scrivens enjoyed a strong outing in goal. He made 27 saves for his shutout as Canada was outshot 27-23. Scrivens hasn't played much in the past month with his KHL club, Salavat Yulaev Ufa. So it was nice for him to start on a high note.

The Canadian goals came when defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani drifted in a long shot early in the game for a 1-0 lead and Mat Robinson jumped in the rush to convert a pass from Derek Roy midway through the second period.

With no pure goal scorer to depend on up front, expect more of the same from the Canadian defencemen in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Canada has a mobile, puck-moving collection of defencemen who are not afraid of jumping into the rush or a pinch-in in the offensive zone.

Canadian head coach Willie Desjardins wants his team to play an up-tempo, four-line, short-shift game and other than a few sloppy stretches in the second and third period, his players followed the game plan.

Lines and pairings

Here were the forward lines and defence pairings used by Desjardins:

Quinton Howden – Derek Roy – Gilbert Brule

Mason Raymond – Chris Kelly – Christian Thomas

Rob Klinkhammer – Eric O'Dell – Max Lapierre

Wojtek Wolski – Linden Vey – Brandon Kozun

Chris Lee – Mat Robinson

Karl Stollery – Stefan Elliott

Marc-Andre Gragnani—Cody Goloubef

Chay Genoway – Maxim Noreau

Andrew Ebbett was the 13th forward but will play a more prominent role as he becomes accustomed to his new teammates. Ebbett arrived over the weekend because of his duties with his Swiss league team, Bern SC.

Desjardins will do some line juggling and there may be different combinations in Canada's next exhibition game against Belarus on Tuesday.

Kelly wore captain's C

Kelly wore the captain's C for this outing, but Hockey Canada will officially wait until later this week to name its captain and alternate captains for the Olympic tournament.

This wasn't the same upset-minded Latvian team that gave Canada a scare in the quarter-finals at the Sochi Games four years ago. There was no Kristers Gudlevskis, the stellar netminder who made 55 saves in that 2-1 Canadian victory. He now toils in the AHL for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

But Hartley's team did have Lauris Darzins, who played junior for the Kelowna Rockets and now is a Dinamo Riga teammate of Canadian defenceman Karl Stollery. Darzins was the skilled forward who scored to tie the quarter-final game 1-1 in the first period in Sochi.

The Latvians were an accommodating bunch on Sunday. After the game, the two teams retired to the dressing room and returned after the ice was resurfaced so Canada could work on its four-on-four and three-on-three overtime play as well as a shootout.

Roy scored to give Canada the win in the four-on-four session and Chay Genoway and Quinton Howden scored in the three-on-three situation, while Latvia clicked for a single three-on-three goal.

Latvia won the seven-round shootout. Roy scored, while Wojtek Wolski, Chris Lee, Brandon Kozun and Ebbett missed. Roy then missed two more opportunities in the sixth and seventh rounds. 

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