Sports

WORLD CUP OF HOCKEY

Canada's Big Boys are primed if U.S. wants to get physical

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

OTTAWA - 

With his icy stare and surly on-ice mood, beefy 6-foot-4 Shea Weber comes by his “Man-Mountain” nickname honestly.

When 6-foot-4 Ryan Getzlaf puts his head down to go to the net, he looks like a chugging fullback ploughing through or over any obstacle in his way en route to the end zone.

Agitating 6-foot-3 Corey Perry is among the top pests in the game, boasting a resume that includes a number of scuffles with NHL goalies including Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier.

On the blueline, the St. Louis Blues’ dynamic duo of Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo are Team Canada’s Twin Towers On Blades, averaging 6-foot-4 and 211 pounds.

With a scraggly beard that seems to want to grow all the way down to the maple leaf crest on the front of his jersey, are we certain that 6-foot-4 Joe Thornton doesn’t have a few ornery critters living in that bushy forest of face follicles?

And then there is Brad Marchand who, despite his diminutive 5-foot-9 frame, might be the most irritating little (bleep) in the National Hockey League in the eyes of his riled-up opponents.

After considering the size, strength and, in some cases, sour dispositions harboured at times by these aforementioned players, can anyone truly call Team Canada a finesse team?

Is that really the way Team USA sees them?

Truth be told, Team USA officials cobbled together a roster aimed at beating Canada, if not beating them up. As such, skilled players such as Tyler Johnson, Phil Kessel and Kevin Shattenkirk were left off the roster in favour of sandpaper types like David Backes and Justin Abdelkader, fierce competitors who have cut their teeth in pro hockey by relentlessly grinding opponents into the ice.

But, if that’s truly the agenda of the Americans, if that really is the blueprint general manager Dean Lombardi and his staff believes will pave the road to success at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, will it work?

“I’m not so sure about that,” Thornton said Thursday. “We’ve got some big boys around here.

“The players on this team are used to being played physical against. It’s no different than playing during an 82-game schedule. You just have to keep your head up; when the hit is there, take it; and when the hit is coming, dodge it.”

Maybe we’ll get a better idea of how this will play out when Canada meets the U.S. in a pre-tournament game in Columbus on Friday, the first competitive contest for most of these players in at least three months.

On the surface, this is a mere exhibition game in what critics dub to be nothing more than an exhibition tournament. As Getzlaf said, expect it to be a “sloppy” affair, given the rust accrued by both teams during the summer.

At the same time, Thornton admits emotions will be ramped up because their foes on this night will be the rivals from south of the border.

“Ya, they will,” he admitted, adding that “I’m sure that emotions will be high.

“I think every team that plays Canada wants to be physical,” he added. “I just think that’s their M.O. The United States, they’ll want to play physical but Canada can play physical too. Whenever Canada and U.S. get together, you can expect a physical game.

“I don’t think we’re too worried about that.”

Pietrangelo feels Team USA’s near-obsession with defeating Canada is a nice pat on the back for the 2014 Olympic gold medallists, who beat the Americans 1-0 in the semifinals in Sochi.

“We’ll take it as a compliment,” Pietrangelo said. “I mean, obviously we’re the defending champs so I think most teams are doing what they can to try to beat us.”

According to Team Canada coach Mike Babcock, the competitive juices of the players likely will be flowing at a higher tempo than their legs, noting that "obviously there’s a rivalry before it even starts."

During the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, the bad blood between the Canadians and Americans boiled over to the point that a brawl broke out with Canada’s Keith Primeau and Team USA’s Bill Guerin in the feature bout.

Some 20 years later, we’re not suggesting history will repeat itself in that way. It’s a different era, a different game, and there are different attitudes about fighting.

Having said that, if the U.S. wants to play it rough, the Canadians will be more than ready and willing.

Thornton, Pavelski are teammates, and opponents

OTTAWA - In a tournament like this, NHL teammates can become fierce opponents very quickly.

Cue the chirping.

Joe Thornton admits it’s already started between him and fellow San Jose Shark Joe Pavelski, who is the captain of Team USA.

“Oh ya, we’ve been exchanging texts already and there will be more,” Thornton said. “We’re both competitive guys who are proud of our countries.

“We’re not shy about letting each other know about it.”

Thornton’s Canadians meet Pavelski’s Americans in a pre-tournament game Friday night in Columbus.

mzeisberger@postmedia.com

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