UFA, Russia — First it was Nail Yakupov. Now it’s the Slovakians who are tagging the Canadian junior hockey team with the “dirty” label.
The Canadians came back from a 2-0 deficit for a 6-3 victory over Slovakia at the 2013 world junior championship on Friday. Canada’s second straight win came despite losing forwards JC Lipon and Anthony Camara to major penalties from punishing hits on their 0-2 opponents.
“I think, in my eyes, the two hits were dirty,” said Slovak centre Tomas Mikus. “It’s not good in a world championship. We accept clear hits but the hands were too high.
Team Canada dismissed the accusations of playing outside the rules and besmirching the good name of international hockey. The way they see it, they’re simply playing the game the Canadian way.
“We can’t worry about any of that stuff,” said forward Mark Scheifele. “We have to come out and play our game. We have our strategy and the way we play and we’re going to do that. We’re not going to worry about anything else or what people say.
“We’re doing to whatever it takes to win. We’re going to be hard players and work our hardest. That’s just the Canadian style.”
In the second period Slovakian defenceman Patrik Luza was collecting a puck that had been fired around the boards in his zone. He looked behind him to corral the puck and just as he got it and looked up, Camara delivered a thunderous bodycheck.
Luza, 18, hit the ice like a ton of bricks. The Slovakian players surrounded him and immediately called to the bench for help. He was taken off the ice on a stretcher and will spend the night in hospital as a precaution, according to Slovakian coach Ernest Bokros.
“He probably has a concussion, it looks like,” said Bokros through a team translator. “He had a cut on his face.”
The on-ice officials – Pavel Hodek from the Czech Republic and Jari Levonen of Finland – assessed Camara a five-minute major penalty for charging and a game misconduct. By Canadian Hockey League standards, the hit was hard but clean.
“I think I've got a full appreciation for how good the officiating is in the Canadian Hockey League right now,” said Spott, who coaches the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers. “But saying that these are the cards that we’re dealt over here, there’s a different standard and we respect that.”
Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s senior director of hockey operations, confirmed hours after the game that Camara’s hit would not be reviewed by the International Ice Hockey Federation.
JC Lipon will not be so lucky.
The Kamloops Blazers forward was given a five-minute major and tossed from the game late in the first period for a high hit to the head of Mikus. The 19-year-old Canadian forward will have a hearing on Saturday morning to determine if there will be additional discipline.
Mikus was flat-out on the ice and attended to by team medical staff, but was able to skate off the ice under his own power.
“I felt the elbow on my head and I was shocked and I fell on the ice,” said the Slovakian forward of the Lipon hit. “The doctor came and got me together and I was really glad it wasn’t something bad.”
The hit didn’t prevent Mikus from missing a shift
“I almost (missed) one,” he said after the game. “But they waited for me and I played the next shift. I am OK.”
Mikus was healthy enough to pad the lead on the power play to make it 2-0 for Slovakia heading into the second period.
“In 58 seconds I believe he was back out on the ice and scored the goal,” said Spott.
The Canadians trailed the Slovakians 3-1 midway through the game. But goals by Morgan Rielly, Ty Rattie and Scheifele put Canada in front for keeps. Ryan Strome, with a pair, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had the other goals for Canada.
The IIHF, which regulates the tournament, has come down hard on hits to the head.
“(Players) must be protected,” said IIHF president Rene Fasel in a video explaining the governing body’s stance on head injuries. “And there is no such thing as a clean hit to the head in international ice hockey.”
The unbeaten Canadians came out of the game injury-free, though Scheifele was particularly targeted by the Slovakian side.
“I was getting banged around and was taking some cheap shots,” said Scheifele. “But all the boys were battling through it. That shows a lot of character by all our guys.”
There were a number of embellishments – diving and laying on the ice looking for calls – on both sides to draw penalties. Not that the Canadians would ever admit to it.
Spott went even further, channeling his inner Don Cherry and suggesting embellishing to get a favourable call would be unCanadian. He referenced a play in the first period where Slovakia’s Branislav Rapac was assessed a two-minute penalty for kneeing Scheifele.
“The question we have as a staff is if you embellish does that assist (getting a call)? I think that’s the challenge that we have,” said Spott of the penalties being called against his team. “In my mind, Mark Schiefele’s hit, if Mark lies down that’s a five-minute major, but our boys don’t lie down.
“Canadian hockey players don’t lie down. They’ll drag themselves off the ice before they lie down.”
On Thursday, the IIHF handed out supplemental discipline to Russia’s Maxim Shalunov for a cross-check to the face of Slovakian defenceman Tomas Nechala. During the game, Shalunov had been assessed a double minor penalty for high-sticking. Nechala played against Canada wearing a full cage.
Canada is already playing without the services of forward Boone Jenner, who was suspended three games for a late hit on Sweden’s Jesper Petterson in pre-tournament play. The Swede suffered a broken wrist and dislocated shoulder, forcing him to miss the tournament. Jenner will return to the lineup for Canada’s game against Russia on New Year’s Eve.
Spott said he’s worried he might be forced to continue playing shorthanded if the IIHF suspends Lipon.
“This is now out of our hands and we have to hope the disciplinary committee understands that there were a couple of decisions made out on the ice that maybe were poor,” said Spott of the refereeing. “In our mind that’s how we feel, but ultimately we can’t control the officiating.”