BUFFALO — Team Canada will get a big 6-foot-3, 226-pound boost when Zack Kassian returns to the lineup for their quarter-final game against Switzerland.
The Sunday afternoon game will be the first game back for the 19-year-old forward after sitting out a two-game suspension for a hit to the head on Czech defenceman Petr Senkerik on Tuesday night.
“It gives us a four-line rotation,” said head coach Dave Cameron of Kassian’s return to the lineup. “It gives us another strong power forward with good hands and he’s really helped the power play.”
Kassian’s physical presence will come in handy against the smaller Swiss side that have 10 players all listed under 6-feet. In a pre-tournament exhibition game in Oshawa, Ont., Canada routed the Swiss 8-0 and Kassian was a force using his size to push players off the puck for turnovers and create room for his linemates.
“That’s huge for us,” said Canadian captain Ryan Ellis of what his Windsor Spitfires teammate brings to the team. ”He’s one of our better players, he’s a big body up front. I think it’s tough to contain a guy that weighs almost 230-pounds so having his physical edge and his all-around game up in the front I think that will help our team out a lot.”
Canada missed the LaSalle, Ont., native dearly during their 6-5 shootout loss to Sweden, especially during their power play opportunities despite going 1-for-3 in that game. Coming into the tournament there were questions about Canada’s ability to score on the power play, but Kassian’s work with the man advantage – prior to his suspension – has helped Canada lead the tournament with a 50-per-cent efficiency with the extra man.
“[Kassian] brings a lot of energy to the team,” said Canada’s leading scorer Brayden Schenn. “He plays on the power play and he’s a big force out there, so we’re excited to have him back.”
And while his teammate are excited to have him in the lineup, the question remains as to whether Kassian will continue to walk the fine line between being smart and physical and taking undisciplined penalties – a facet of his game he’s had issues with long before joining Team Canada. Still, Cameron said at an early morning press conference on Tuesday, he wants his team to use their emotion and be on the attack against the speedy Swiss side.
“You’re always talking about emotion, but there has to be discipline over emotion,” Cameron said. “But we want to be the team today that’s on the hunt, we don’t want to sit back and wait. We want to make things happen.”
Much of that emotion came after their loss to Sweden, which forced Canada to play the extra quarter-final game while the Tre Kronor advanced to Monday’s semifinal with a day’s rest. Not being able to hit the ice right away gave the Canadians an extra day to stew over the outcome.
“It’s tough when you lose to just have a day off to think about it,” Ellis said. “But it was a good game [against Sweden] and we just want to move on from that and focus on [the Swiss].
“I think our coach put it best, when he said ‘They didn’t hand out the medals on the day we lost,’ so I think this is where the real tournament starts,” added the captain. “It’s tough to go through it the way we are but teams have done it before… so there’s a lot to look forward to.”
Sunaya Sapurji is the Junior Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports. You can contact her at Sunaya@yahoo-inc.com or follow her on Twitter @sunayas.