MINSK, Belarus - While the Los Angeles Kings are battling their crosstown rivals in the Western Semi-Final on this side of the Atlantic, a former Kings player and current executive is on his own mission on the other side. Kings' assistant general manager Rob Blake was named the GM of Team Canada for the 2014 World Hockey Championship, and while this event is more-or-less viewed as a consolation tournament, Blake is no less determined to bring gold back to Canada at this tournament for the first time since 2007.
On Friday morning, Team Canada kicked off their tournament in the host city of Minsk, Belarus where they faced off against France. On paper, this was a mismatch in Canada's favour. However, if you were to ask any sports expert, nothing is won on paper. Unfortunately for the Canadians, the underdog French squad proved just that.
Stephane Da Costa, who played 12 games for the Ottawa Senators this past season, put France out in front early. But former King Brayden Schenn tied the game for Canada late in the first.
After Florida's Erik Gudbranson gave Canada their first lead of the game, Stephane Da Costa struck again for the French, tying the game in the third ultimately sending the game to a shootout.
In the extra frame, both netminders - Toronto's James Riemer for Canada; former King Cristobal Huet for France - were solid, like they had been for much of the contest. But with each goaltender closing the door on the respective shooters, it was up to France's Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare to win it - and he did, beating Riemer stick-side to give the French the shocking win.
Much can be said about Stephane Da Costa and rightfully so as he had a solid game up front, not showing the least bit of timidness against a much deeper Canadian squad. But it was 38-year-old Cristobal Huet who reigned supreme in the French net. The former Los Angeles King stopped 36 shots, frustrating the Canadians to no end before shutting them down once and for all in the shootout.
Entering Friday's matchup, France was 1-8 against Canada in the Worlds. Their lone win against the Canucks came way back in 1995. In addition, Team Canada had outscored France 16-3 in their last two meetings (2011 and 2012).
While they did pick up the regulation point, Team Canada knows they could have benefitted from the pair as in this tournament, every point matters. But for the Canadians, there isn't any sense crying over spilled milk. Instead, they must now refocus and look forward to their Saturday afternoon (1:45pm EST) against Slovakia.
It was an inauspicious for GM Rob Blake but hopefully this unexpected loss will serve as a very important learning curve not only for him but for the entire Canadian squad.