HELSINKI — Teddy Purcell and his fellow Canadian Olympic team hopefuls exhibited a lack of touch around the crease and poor play on special teams in their 2-0 loss to Sweden at the Karjala Cup on Friday.
There were bright spots in Canada’s play in the way the defence moved the puck out of its own end and a strong two-way outing from centre Eric O’Dell, but this is a team searching for chemistry two games into their first major pre-Olympic tournament.
Canada peppered Swedish goalie Magnus Hellberg, especially in the third period with 18 of its 35 shots. But Purcell and Co. kept hitting the Tre Kronor crest on the chest of Hellberg, a teammate of a few Canadian players, including defenceman Jesse Blacker and Geoff Kinrade, with Kunlun Red Star of the KHL.
All Sweden needed for the victory were power-play goals from Par Lindholm in the second and third periods. The Canadians, meanwhile, had a golden opportunity midway through the final period when down 1-0, they had a 5-on-3 advantage for one minute and 45 seconds but could not score the equalizer.
“Our special teams let us down,” said Canadian captain Maxim Noreau, whose team opened with a 3-2 win against Switzerland on Wednesday and will conclude the tournament against Finland on Sunday. “We need more traffic. We’ll talk about it and we’ll get better.”
The 32-year-old Purcell also expects to get better as he puts in more time in Russia with Omsk Avangard in the KHL and with the Canadian national team.
A 10-year veteran in the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers, Purcell had a non-contract tryout with the Boston Bruins during training camp in September. But the right wing was let go a couple days before the regular season commenced.
He had offers from two other teams for a two-way contract, but instead returned to his off-season home in the Los Angeles-area to figure out his move.
“I didn’t want another year of riding the buses,” said Purcell, who split last season with the Kings and their AHL-affiliate, the Ontario Reign.
While California Dreamin’, Purcell’s agent called to deliver the news that Omsk had offered him a contract. But first the native of St. John’s, Nfld., had to do some homework.
Purcell phoned two of his former teammates, Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy, who both have played in Omsk, for their input and both gave the KHL club thumbs up.
So he dropped off his Goldendoodle Vedder, named after Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, at the home of Kings captain Anze Kopitar, and hopped on a plane bound for Russia.
“It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks,” Purcell said. “Anze and his wife [Ines] have the same type of dog, so it was nice that they could look after Vedder.
“But I have some rust. I have to work myself into game condition again. Because of the way things have worked out this year, I have played only four games [with Omsk].”
Hockey Canada officials don’t have to worry about Purcell. He’s been a story of perseverance throughout his career. He left Newfoundland at 17 to attend the famed Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask. and played junior for the Hounds.
He later landed a scholarship to the University of Maine and it was during his freshman year that Kings scout Steve Greeley convinced Ron Hextall, then assistant to L.A. GM Dean Lombardi, to sign Purcell.
Greeley felt Purcell had “elite hands and vision.” Those traits were on full display late in 2010-11 when only Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos and Penguins Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scored more than Purcell’s 36 points in the final 30 games.
Hockey Canada definitely took notice and invited him to the 2012 world championship in, coincidentally, Helsinki.
“I’m not as nervous playing for Canada this time as I was the first time,” Purcell said. “You know I talked to Hockey Canada back in the summer about this possibility. But my the goal was to play in the NHL.
“Even though the best in the world won’t be playing in the Olympics, it’s still an awesome and a good opportunity for a guy like me.”
He also wouldn’t mind giving his home province another proud international moment like Dwayne Norris and John Slaney did with gold-medal clinching goals for Canada at the 1990 and 1991 world junior tournaments, respectively, or like curling skip Brad Gushue with his team’s golden performance at the 2006 Olympics.
“Ever since I started to play pro I’ve always received a lot of support from back home,” Purcell said. “Hopefully, I can make this team and give them something to cheer about because you don’t want to let your country down.”