Canada’s Hall standing tall
Canada’s Hall standing tall
Oilers star looking for second straight gold
The 24-year-old Edmonton Oilers star has played with Russian teammates like Nail Yakupov and Nikita Nikitin over the years, but hasn’t picked up a lot of their language. Asked to assess his fluency in Russian, Hall said with a laugh: “Brutal. I know ‘Nyet.’ That’s about it.”
Fortunately for Hockey Canada, Hall likes to do his talking on the ice. Last year at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in the Czech Republic, he shone during Canada’s first gold medal run since 2007. He was named a tournament all-star with seven goals and five assists in 10 games.
The dynamic left winger is excited about getting a chance to do it again when this year’s Worlds kick off on 6 May, and he sees an additional benefit to participating. Showcasing his skills here could open the door for him to suit up in another big-time hockey tournament taking place in Toronto this September.
“It’s always an honour to play for Canada,” Hall said. “I think there’s a lot on the line, with the World Cup of Hockey and there still being some spots open there. You’d love to go over and try to do as well as you can as a team and contribute whatever you can.”
Todd McLellan, his head coach in Edmonton, seconds that motion. McLellan, who has 311 wins in 540 career games as an NHL bench boss with the Oilers and the San Jose Sharks, was in charge last year in Prague when Canada won gold.
“It’s an incredible experience,” said McLellan. “It’s a chance for him to expose himself to one of the coaches that’ll be on the World Cup team. I think he enjoyed his experience there last year. I’m sure he will this year again.”
The coach McLellan alludes to is Bill Peters, who just completed his second year behind the bench with the Carolina Hurricanes and will guide Canada’s team in Russia. Hall knows the 51-year-old Alberta native well, since they won gold together at the 2008 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament with a roster that also included the likes of Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly.
“I had him as a coach at the U18 when I was 16,” Hall recalled. “He’s a very detailed guy. He coached the D last year, and the guys really enjoyed playing for him. It should be fun.”
In Prague, Hall loved playing on the same line as Edmonton teammate Jordan Eberle and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. The 2015 gold medal victory put Crosby into the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club (2009 Stanley Cup, 2010 and 2014 Olympics).
Crosby’s Penguins are facing Alexander Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals in the second round of the NHL playoffs this year, meaning Hall is unlikely to renew that special partnership. But he learned a lot from watching Crosby up close last year.
“He’s a world-class player and a world-class leader,” Hall said. “He expects people around him to elevate their play. He forced me to do that. It was fun to contribute to a winning team with an amazing player like that.”
Many believe Connor McDavid is Crosby’s heir apparent as the next great Canadian hockey forward. Even though injuries limited Hall’s 19-year-old Edmonton teammate to 45 games this season, he still scored 48 points as a rookie, and he’ll be a marquee attraction at the World Championship. Hall fully expects McDavid, who won the 2015 World Junior gold with a thrilling 5-4 triumph over Russia in Toronto, to excel in his next international adventure.
“He’s a superstar already, who I think could only do even more things on the big ice,” Hall said. “It’ll be fun to watch him there.”
Moscow has witnessed some memorable victories for Canadian teams over the decades. Think of Paul Henderson’s winning goal in the 1972 Summit Series, or the 1988 World Junior gold versus future Russian superstars like Alexander Mogilny and Sergei Fyodorov, or the 2007 World Championship where Canada went undefeated in nine straight games. Hall is hoping to add another such victory to his resume after the Oilers finished last in the Western Conference with 70 points.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “It’s huge. It’s been a tough year winning-wise, so to go over there and experience that winning feeling again is the reason why I want to go.”
With no disrespect whatsoever to Pushkin and Dostoyevsky.
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