Advantage Canada?

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

HALIFAX -- The theory over in Europe is that Canada and the United States are teams in trouble.

Team Canada and Team USA, who meet here tonight as they make their first stops on the road to the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Austria, have lineups filled with players who spent the NHL lockout on the couch.

Almost all the players on the European teams spent the year playing.

Advantage Russia, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, etc.

But as head coach Marc Habscheid stood near the Citidel and proclaimed "Hail! Hail! The gang's all here!" (OK, it was the lobby of the Delta Barrington when Joe Thornton arrived last night), there's a growing sense around Team Canada that the reverse might be true.

It might be advantage Canada.

Chris Phillips and Rick Nash, who were on the ice for their first practice with Team Canada here yesterday, having returned from playing in Europe mid-season, advanced that theory. And Habscheid is beginning to believe it.

"People talk about rust, but I can see the advantage the other way," said the head coach. "You look at these guys and see that they're fresh, they want to play, they're excited to play ...

"Nobody's beat up, hurting, dealing with nagging injuries. None of them are physically or mentally exhaused."

Nash, who one week ago skated with Thornton to win the Swiss Elite League playoffs, said he didn't detect any rust whatsoever.

COULDN'T TELL

"I couldn't tell during practice," he said.

"Down low and in the two-on-twos, everybody seemed in shape and ready to play."

Canada has more players who didn't play in Europe this year than those who did.

Dany Heatley split the season between Bern in Switzerland and AK Bars Kazan in Russia. Brendan Morrison went from start to finish with Linkoping in Sweden. Sheldon Souray played 39 games with Farjestad and Dan Boyle played 38 games with Djudgardens in Sweden. And for Thorton and Nash ... well, the Swiss League isn't exactly a torture test in terms of level of hockey or travel.

Nash says he certainly isn't coming here mentally drained from his season in Switzerland. He's pumped to play. This was something that was taken away from him last year, and by extension, he believes, a chance to play for Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey last September.

HAD TO BE REPLACED

The Columbus Blue Jacket had said yes to Team Canada to go to Prague but had to be replaced when he was hit by tonsillitis.

"A lot of people said if I'd been able to go over it might have made a difference in getting selected for the World Cup," he said.

Nash, who returned to Brampton, Ont., for five days (enough time to go to a mall and a movie theatre - two of the things he missed most spending the season in Europe), says he's ready for the quick turn-around and the world championships in Innsbruck, an hour and a half from where he played in Davos.

Habscheid won't say if he'll put Nash with Thornton (he skated on a line with Ryan Smyth yesterday), but it would make sense. They finished one-two in scoring together with Davos.

Ottawa Senator Phillips, the Fort MacMurray product, says he didn't step on the ice and have any sense that these guys aren't already up to speed, either.

Phillips, who won two World Junior golds for Canada, joined Brynas of the Swedish Elite League for the last 27 games of the season plus nine games in the playoffs.

He said the guys who sat the season shouldn't really have much more of an adjustment than he did when he went over at mid-season.

"My adjustment period was about a week. The skating was fine in no time. Getting adjusted to the big ice took a little bit longer."

Habscheid joked that adjusting back to the small ice might be a problem tonight.

"I thought we were adjusting very well to the big ice in Calgary," he said of Father David Bauer arena.

"Today it seemed a little small."


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