The world junior hockey championship hasn’t even started yet, but Canada is already facing mounting adversity.
Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the shootout Saturday as Canada defeated Sweden 2-1 in the team’s final warm-up game.
The story afterwards, however, was the status of Canadian centre Boone Jenner, who was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for charging after a late hit on Jesper Pettersson in the second period.
The Swedish defenceman lay on the ice in pain and had to be carried off on a stretcher.
Canadian coach Steve Spott said he didn’t know if Jenner would face further disciplinary action from the International Ice Hockey Federation.
“It’s out of our control. Ultimately, our feeling is [the hit] was shoulder-to-shoulder,” Spott said. “If anything, maybe interference or a charge but definitely not something that’s worth suspending because although Boone is an aggressive player, he didn’t target anybody’s head and he didn’t leave his feet.”
If Jenner, who plays for the Oshawa Generals and is a draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is suspended for a significant length of time, Canada would have the option to bring over a player to replace him.
It’s something that Spott has already had to deal with after left-winger Charles Hudon of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens aggravated his back in practice this week and had to be sent home. Mark McNeill of the Prince Albert Raiders was expected join the Canadian team on Saturday night to take Hudon’s place.
Despite the uncertainty, Spott said the team is coming together as Canada’s first game against Germany on Boxing Day in Ufa, Russia, draws closer.
“It’s been a good group,” he said. “Unfortunately we’ve had to deal with some adversity early with Charles Hudon and now with Boone, but that ultimately makes you stronger.”
Huberdeau used a pretty deke to open Saturday’s shootout before Nugent-Hopkins beat Swedish goalie Joel Lassinantti low stickside on Canada’s second attempt.
Mikael Vikstrand was the only Swede to beat Canadian goalie Jordan Binnington.
Jonathan Drouin scored in regulation for Canada, while Alexander Wennberg replied for Sweden.
Spott asked for more discipline after Thursday’s 3-2 exhibition loss to Finland but his team again found itself in the penalty box far too often.
“The effort was great but again we’re taking too many penalties,” Spott said. “That’s an area that we have to continue to improve at because we’re just putting our penalty killers on the ice way too much and there are some elite players that are sitting.
“Discipline and staying out of the penalty box is something that we need to address.”
His team’s need to adapt to the way games are called at the international level aside, Spott didn’t mince words when asked about the referees in Finland.
“The quality of officiating [at the pre-tournament] has been below world-class standards and I think the Finnish federation has to address that,” he said. “These are sanctioned games and if you put less-than-qualified officials out on the ice, which we clearly had tonight, you’re putting players in a dangerous situation. It’s concerning.
“The officiating tonight was certainly not up to a world-class standard.”
Binnington played strong in goal for Canada, making 30 saves. Malcolm Subban stopped 19 shots in Thursday’s loss to Finland, but Spott said he’s been pleased with the play of both goaltenders and will wait until the night before the tournament opener to name his starter.
“Jordan was really solid but so was Malcolm,” he said. “Unfortunately we took bad penalties in front of him.”
Note: McNeill has represented Canada at the 2011 IIHF World U18 Championship in Germany and also played for Team Pacific at the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Timmins, Ont. A 2011 first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, McNeill has 13 goals and 26 assists in 35 games with Prince Albert this season.