Ticklin' that twine

Team Canada will look to Joe Thornton and Rick Nash, who played in the Swiss Elite League during...

Team Canada will look to Joe Thornton and Rick Nash, who played in the Swiss Elite League during the NHL lockout, to put the puck in the net. (Toronto Sun File Photo/Ernest Doroszuk)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Will there be enough goals for gold?

Will Canada be able to tickle the twine?

Can Joe Thornton and Rick Nash pick up where they left off in the Swiss Elite League and keep filling the cord cottage for what may be an otherwise offensively challenged Team Canada?

That may tell the tale for Canada when Marc Habscheid's team begins play in the IIHF World Hockey Championships this weekend in Innsbruck.

Without Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Vinnie Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Daniel Briere, etc., will there be enough offence on Team Canada to be able to win a third straight world championship?

If the goals are going to be there, they're almost certainly going to have to come in large numbers from the No. 1 line of Thornton, Nash and Simon Gagne.

After putting them together for Canada's second pre-tournament game in Quebec City and keeping them together for the next one in Riga, Latvia, Habscheid says he'll take them to the tournament together.

SOME PRESSURE

There's going to be some pressure there.

"He's on the No. 1 line in Columbus and I'm on the No. 1 in Boston. Both of us are expected to score every night. It's our job," said St. Thomas, Ont., product Thornton of Nash.

"That's what we're expected to do on any team. You're definitely expected to be that person every night," said Brampton, Ont., native Nash.

Both think Gagne, who ended up with Iginla and Sakic at the Olympics and Richards and St. Louis at the World Cup, is a perfect playmate.

"It should be a really good line," said Thornton. "Gagne can play any role, offensively or defensively. He's very versatile."

Habscheid will go with Dany Heatley, Brendan Morrison and Ryan Smyth as a second line and the national grind line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Shane Doan will also stay together.

But there's no question, the big boys will have to come through. And the big boys are big. There will be a significant size difference between this line and anybody on the ice against them.

"You think?" laughed the six-foot-four, 228-pound Thornton.

"I hope it will be to our advantage. It won't be a big advantage on the ice but when we get down low in the offensive zone I think you'll see us score a lot of goals if we play to our strength."

Nash is six-foot-four and 203 pounds. The little guy on the line, Gagne, is six-foot, 185 pounds.

The line has felt like they're ready to explode as they go into the final pre-tournament test against the Czechs here.

"We'd have scored five goals against Latvia if we'd buried our chances," said Nash. "The thing is we're getting the chances."

INTERESTING STUDY

Thornton, in particular, is an interesting study going into this tournament.

He had 54 points in 40 games in the Swiss League and then dialed it up to register 25 points in 14 games in winning the Swiss championship in the playoffs.

Swiss sportswriting colleague Klaus Zaugg says Thornton can do what no Canadian player has ever done before - win four championships in the same season.

The Boston Bruin star won gold at the World Cup of hockey, won gold at the Spengler Cup, the world's oldest hockey tournament, then won the Swiss championship.

The two played together with Davos but didn't play on the same line.

Why?

"I don't know," said Nash. "Me either," said Thornton.

"We played together on all the power plays," said Thornton.

"Spending the season together in Davos did give us a good understanding of each other's game," said Nash, who had 26 goals in the Swiss regular season and another eight goals in the playoffs.

"Rick knows how to play the game without the red line - really knows how to utilize it. Look for that pass," said Habscheid.

Playing in the no-hit Swiss league has brought the two here in great shape.

"My body has no wear and tear," says Thornton. "There's not much hitting. But it's a league with a lot of skill. I think it was good for both of us that we spent the year playing that kind of hockey."

They just hope they can be good for Canada playing this kind of hockey.


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