That star player the Canadian fans were hoping would show up to lead their lunch-bucket brigade arrived Tuesday at HSBC Arena.
Centre Brayden Schenn may not have the finesse of recent world junior championship stars like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle; he may play the game more like his older brother Luke, the hard-nosed defenceman for the Toronto Maple Leafs; but no one can argue with the results so far.
Another raucous crowd that was almost all Canadians roared its approval of Schenn as he took charge against a Czech team that was badly overmatched physically. By the time the Czechs were pounded into the ice, including forward Petr Senkerik, who was taken off on a stretcher after a jolting but clean hit by Canadian winger Zack Kassian, the Canadians had a 7-2 win and Schenn had five points and firm control of the tournament’s scoring race.
After two games and two wins, Schenn has seven points and the closest thing to a starring role there is on the Canadian team. Not bad for a 19-year-old who spent most of the first half of the hockey season sitting on the sidelines.
Then again, Schenn says if it had not been for those days as a spare part for the Los Angeles Kings in his first shot at the NHL, he might not be ready to step forward at this tournament. Schenn spent time in the company of Captain Canada himself, Kings winger Ryan Smyth, who passed along a wealth of knowledge from his seven stints as captain of Canadian teams in international competitions from the worlds to the Olympics.
“He’s helped me a lot,” Schenn said. “I sat beside him in the practice room, I was stall-mates with him. He was kind of in the same situation when he was 19. He wasn’t playing, he got sent to the minors and then actually got called back up and stayed as a 19-year-old.
“With the experience he has under his belt, anything he says, I listen.”
Smyth, 34, was taken sixth overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1994 NHL entry draft, while Schenn was picked fifth overall in 2009 by the Kings. This season, though, Schenn bounced between the Kings (eight games), their American Hockey League farm team (seven games) and his junior team, the Brandon Wheat Kings (two games).
But there is little evidence of rust in his game. The six-foot, 200-pound Saskatoon native was one of the most prominent Canadians from the start on Tuesday. He can go around or through opposing players and then put the puck on the stick of a linemate in scoring position.
“I’m just trying to move my feet and use my speed,” he said. “[Tuesday] was just one of those nights. I had a little puck luck. Guys were open when I had the puck.”
Schenn was a big part of the game’s turning point, although he admits things started with some luck. Kassian’s hit on Senkerik left the Canadians killing a five-minute major penalty in the second period and holding on to a 2-1 lead. The Czechs had a great scoring chance but goaltender Olivier Roy made a great save.
The puck came to Schenn after the save and he gave it away at the blueline. But it came right back to him and he set up Louis Leblanc on a two-on-one rush that produced a short-handed goal and turned the game around.
“I got a lucky break,” Schenn said. “There was a momentum swing there.”
It ended up being the kind of night where Schenn could expect another approving text from Captain Canada, who is keeping his eye on his protégé.
“After the last game, he sent me a text: ‘Good job, I was watching,’” Schenn said. “It’s good to have a mentor like that watching me and seeing how I’m doing.”