Oh no, Canada

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:38 PM ET

RIGA, Latvia -- Team Canada looked so good in Halifax, were so-so in Quebec City and went to "oh no" for openers here last night.

For a while there you had to wonder if the dreaded rust, resulting from all but eight players not having played regular-season hockey, was setting in.

"Ah, it was just the jet lag coming out. That and the big ice. We practised on it in Calgary but it's still a big adjustment the first game you play on it over here no matter how many times you've played on it before," said captain Ryan Smyth.

The result was a 3-1 win over Latvia, which reminded Team Canada not to take their first-game opponent at the coming IIHF World Hockey Championship lightly and had the added bonus of reminding everybody about the absolutely awful officiating you can run into over here.

To "only" win 3-1 over Latvia might be considered a loss by some -- especially considering there wasn't a single NHLer on the ice for the home side. But it was the exact same score of the game here two years ago in a pre-tournament game which ended up with Canada winning the first back-to-back world championships in 46 years.

For starters, though, they did look like they'd just met and had never played with each other before. They couldn't complete a pass. But by the end of it, adjusting to the time zone (nine hours difference from where they started at camp in Calgary) and playing their first game on the big ice, you could see it continue to come together, especially the line of Joe Thornton, Rick Nash and Simon Gagne who look like they're ready to break out and give Canada a big line despite some of the offensive talents who turned the team down.

PLAYING WITH PYLONS

And no matter whether he felt like he was playing with pylons or a team on the road to winning a third-straight title, Martin Brodeur -- playing his first full game in goal -- looked in mid-season or mid-playoff form.

"I'm undefeated in Riga!" Brodeur trumpeted in the post-game Canadian dressing room. "I didn't even know where Riga was on the map nor did I ever expect to ever visit here, and I'm 2-0 here this year."

Brodeur played for the IMG Worldstars here in the first stop on a 10-game-in-14-day tour back in December.

"It was nice to get the feel for a full game. I'm really happy with the way I feel. I'm moving around well, seeing the puck well, playing the puck pretty well and I'm pretty comfortable," added the national netminder who is going for a Worlds gold to go with his Olympic and World Cup of Hockey golds.

"I thought he looked great," said coach Marc Habscheid. "He was cool and relaxed back there.

"They came out all fired up," he said of the Latvians who were playing their only home pre-tournament game after playing two games against Germany and Switzerland.

Canada, which beat Latvia 14-0 in 1935 then didn't play them again until the Iron Curtain came down, skated to a 3-3 tie in 1997, has ended up in the same pool as the Latvians for four straight years now, winning 4-1 in 2002, 6-1 in 2003 and 2-0 last year.

Goaltender Arturs Irbe, who will likely start against Canada Saturday in Innsbruck, sat this one out. Sandis Ozolinsh said no to his country this year. And Latvia was playing without one of its greatest players ever, Sergei Zholtok, who collapsed and died after a game in Belarus earlier this season.

That left Janis Sprukts, the six-foot-three centre drafted by Florida, as the best player on the team. And it was Sprukts who took advantage of Thornton and Nash playing "you get it" with a loose puck in the Canadian end, jumping on it to score a breakaway goal on Brodeur in the frustrating first period.

Patrick Marleau, Gagne and Dany Heatley were credited with the Canadian goals.

PENALTY PARADE

There was a parade to the penalty box as Canada served 14 penalties, double the Latvian total. That, again, had an upside. The penalty killers got plenty of practice and did a solid job. And then there was the reminder about the officiating over here.

"That's the way it is," said Habscheid. "It's been that way many, many years. It's a good learning experience for the guys about what to expect in the tournament."


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