No. 1 on hit parade

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

PARDUBICE, Czech Republic -- Is it me, or are there times when Canada's entry in this year's World Junior Hockey Championship doesn't look like a typical Canadian team?

Through preliminary-round wins over the Czechs, Slovaks and Danes, not to mention that third period nightmare against Sweden, every so often it hit me -- mostly because the Canadians weren't.

Hitting, that is.

Now that the heavy lifting of this tournament begins, so should the heavy hitting.

And Team Canada has just the man for the job.

Colton Gillies, a Surrey, B.C., product approaching 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, has been promoted from fourth-line duty to more regular action, a hint of what's to come against the Finns in today's must-win quarter final.

"Yeah, I try," Gillies said, grinning. "That's always first on my list. If there's a hit, hit 'em."

SEEING STARS

The 18-year-old certainly went through his checklist against Denmark on New Year's Eve.

As revelers were setting off fireworks outside the CEZ Arena in the hours leading up to midnight, a few Danes were left seeing stars inside, thanks to No. 18.

A member of the Western League's Saskatoon Blades, Gillies comes about his ruggedness honestly. You could say it runs deep in the family genes, a line that produced former NHLer Clark Gillies, one of the tougher hombres who ever laced up skates.

Colton's dad and Clark Gillies are cousins, and the family wears the former New York Islander's legacy like a badge.

"Ever since I was little my dad was, like, 'Play like a Gillies.' So I'm trying to do that right now," Colton said.

Sometimes he'll try a little too hard.

Like in Game 1 against the Czechs, when Gillies was penalized for nearly running a Czech through the boards and into the nearby Labe River.

But head coach Craig Hartsburg says the big man has learned that hitting here takes a touch more control than back home.

So he gave him more ice time against the Danes, and the resulting pops rivaled the explosions heard outside.

CHANGE MOMENTUM

"He's a physical force," Hartsburg said. "At certain parts of the game he can change momentum or keep momentum because of a big hit. A big hit over here can be as intimidating as a fight back home.

"That's our style as Canadians -- we have to have contact."

Hartsburg said simple pressure and a finished check is often enough, but you get the impression Gillies would prefer to put his personal stamp on the opponent, every time.

It's a far cry from his bantam days, when he actually won an award for sportsmanship.

"I've changed a little bit," he said, grinning again. "Maybe it's hormones, or something. I can't tell you. After seeing Clark, I guess -- something to live up to."

Those who face him regularly in the Western League know all about those hormones.

"When he dumps the puck in you've gotta make sure you're coming at an angle, you're not going straight ahead, or else it's gonna be lights out," Team Canada captain Karl Alzner, a defenceman with the Calgary Hitmen, said. "We need to hit more every single game. We have to wear teams down. He fits in perfectly. The guy hits and hits and hits."

And it gets contagious.

"It gets everyone up on the bench," defenceman Logan Pyett said. "We've seen a couple from Gillies. Everyone gets pumped up. It just fires the next line up for the next shift.

"Hopefully it snowballs."

It had better against the Finns today.

Or Canada's gold medal hopes will melt away, like the small amount of snow that's fallen on this town the last few days.

In short, they need more than one person to play more like a Gillies.

"I don't know if I can ever play as tough as he was," Colton said. "But I'll try."


Photos