Neal sidelined against Slovaks

TERRY KOSHAN

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

LEKSAND, Sweden -- Canada beat Slovakia 3-0 yesterday without forward James Neal.

Neal, a native of Whitby, Ont., who plays for the OHL's Plymouth Whalers, tweaked a groin against Germany Friday and did not dress against the Slovaks.

"It's hard to miss any game but especially when you are at the world junior championship playing for your country," Neal said.

"It's tough. When I woke up (Saturday) morning it was bugging me. I tried to skate it out at practice (on Saturday) and it did not work out, so here I am."

Both Neal and coach Craig Hartsburg figured the 19-year-old Dallas Stars prospect should be ready for the Wednesday's semifinal.

With Neal out, Hartsburg tinkered with his lines. Bryan Little, who had been on the wing, played between Sam Gagner and Kenndal McArdle.

Tommy Pyatt was moved up to skate with Jonathan Toews and Ryan O'Marra, taking the place of Darren Helm, who worked with Marc-Andre Cliche and Daniel Bertram.

Only the trio of Andrew Cogliano between Steve Downie and Brad Marchand was left untouched.

Little was the most rejuvenated of the bunch, clearly playing with more ease at his natural position. The Cambridge, Ont., native had an assist and created several scoring chances.

NO BIG DEAL:

Kris Russell, of Caroline Alta., took the news he had set a mark for most goals by a Canadian defenceman in one tournament -- four -- with a shrug.

"It's pretty exciting to hear something like that but it does not mean much," Russell said.

"It's a team effort and I've been getting lucky."

Said teammate Ryan Parent: "He's humble and quiet. It's probably the last time he will talk about it."

ICE CHIPS:

Slovak defenceman Vladimir Mihalik was asked whether he thinks Canada will win gold. "They have a good chance but they had a better team last year," said the 6-ft. 8-in., 242-lb. behemoth who plays for the Red Deer Rebels ... The Canadian players were going to ring in the New Year last night with a team dinner and get-together with their parents.


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