Smyth named Canada's captain for 6th time
Ryan Smyth will be holding on to his nickname a little longer.
The veteran forward has been named captain of the Canadian team on the eve of the IIHF World Hockey Championship, making it the record sixth time he'll serve in that role.
Dubbed "Captain Canada" while wearing the "C" from 2001 to 2005, Smyth is back at the event for the first time in five years.
It was only natural for him to be given the team's primary leadership role again.
"Yeah, even I leapt to the conclusion [that it made sense]," coach Craig MacTavish said with a smirk Friday after practice. "It was an easy decision for all of us.
" We all know what he's meant to Canadian hockey, especially at the world championship. To have a guy who is that committed and has that much experience is important."
The team's two alternate captain positions will rotate among a group of players: Ray Whitney, Francois Beauchemin, Steven Stamkos and Corey Perry, who is looking to add a world championship gold to the Olympic gold he won in Vancouver.
Canada opens the tournament against Italy on Saturday. The team will play six round-robin games before facing its first must-win situation in the quarter-finals.
Many observers expect Canada and Russia to meet in the gold-medal game for the third straight year. However, MacTavish was quick to dismiss a European reporter when he suggested that Canada would be drawing motivation from consecutive losses to the Russians in the last two finals.
"We're eight games away from getting to that point," said MacTavish. "It's too early to look there."
Smyth has seen it all
The Canadian roster features six players who are 20 and under — it will be seven if alternate Jordan Eberle gets in the lineup — and is likely to lean heavily on its leadership group.
Smyth relishes the opportunity to pass on his love of the world championship to the next generation of Canadian players. The 34-year-old L.A. King is currently the country's all-time leader with 59 games played at the event.
"I've been through a lot with all different types [of world championship teams] — older, middle-aged and now young," said Smyth. "You know, I think it's turning the page and hopefully developing these young kids to learn the Hockey Canada type of way. There's no better feeling than representing your country."
The players who will serve as alternate captains have a variety of different motivations for attending the event.
Beauchemin, the 29-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman, is part of a national team for the first time ever; Perry has a chance to join the IIHF's Triple Gold Club for players with a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and world championship gold; Stamkos is looking to build on his breakout season in the NHL and prove once again he can shine on the international stage; and Whitney is hoping for something to celebrate in the twilight of his career.
"I've never won a medal of any kind for Canada and it's something I would really love to have," said Whitney, who turns 38 on Saturday. "I've got the best prize, which is the Stanley Cup, and I'd like something else to go with it."
Italians have modest goal
The first step will be made against an Italian team that is back in the top level of the world championship after playing in Pool B a year ago.
Italy features 10 foreign players — nine born in Canada, the other from the U.S. — and has set a goal to avoid relegation during this tournament. The team has been practising together for three weeks and earned a 3-3 tie against Russia in an exhibition game last month.
Heading into the opener against Canada, coach Rick Cornacchia has been trying to instill belief in his players.
"The biggest thing for our guys is to have the confidence to play and not watch for the first 10 minutes," said Cornacchia, a Toronto native. "You can be out of the game in 10 minutes. I think that having the opportunity to play the Russians was really good for us because in the first game we stood around and watched them.
"And they were real good."
Cornacchia is in his second year with the Italian national team and says his role goes beyond bringing structure to the team's game. He's got to be a sports psychologist as well.
"It's not just the X's and O's," said Cornacchia. "Especially with our particular group of guys, it's also the confidence and the psychology — having them believe that they can perform, having them believe that they're good enough. They've been told for many years that they weren't good enough to play in North America and now it's important for them to believe they can play with the pros."
By the end of the world championship, Canada hopes to have its young players believing they can beat the best the other countries have to offer.
Even though "Captain Canada" will play a big role in that process throughout the tournament, Smyth is quick to point out that he's not the most experienced guy in the dressing room.
"Ray Whitney is the old man here," Smyth said with a laugh.