International Ice Hockey Federation

Duchene delivering early

Duchene delivering early

2014 Olympian set to shine in fourth Worlds

Published 03.05.2015 09:26 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Duchene delivering early
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 1: Canada's Matt Duchene #9 skates with puck while Latvia's Maksims Sirokovs #3 chases him down during preliminary round action at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
If you believe that “your best players have to be your best players,” Matt Duchene lived up to that description in Canada’s opening 6-1 win over Latvia.

Granted, the talented 24-year-old Colorado Avalanche centre didn’t grab the headlines like Canada’s top line of Sidney Crosby, Jason Spezza and Nathan MacKinnon did with their combined eight points. But Duchene – one of three 2014 Olympic gold medalists here along with Crosby and Dan Hamhuis – showed his brand of heads-up skill by scoring the 3-0 goal on a nice set-up from Taylor Hall.

“In these tournaments, you want to score as much as possible early,” Duchene said afterwards. “With teams like that, where we’re obviously the favourite going in, we want to keep them at bay. Obviously they gave us a tough go at the Olympics last year [Canada edged Latvia 2-1 in the quarter-finals]. So, it was a strong start for us.”

Playing between Edmonton Oiler teammates Hall and Jordan Eberle looks like a good fit for Duchene. The youngsters have all suited up at this tournament before, and are hungry to end Canada’s eight-year gold medal drought.

“I thought we had a really strong game,” said Duchene. “Tonight, I think we could have had a few more. We’re obviously a little rusty, but we had a couple of really good chances and we got the one goal. We want to bring that out for the next game too.”

As a fourth-time IIHF World Championship participant, Duchene knows what he’s talking about. Going back to 2010, he has 13 points in 23 career games. He also played in 2011 and 2013, but has yet to advance further than the quarter-finals. How does he explain the lack of success for Canada, the two-time defending Olympic champions, at the Worlds?

“I think it’s just our preparation. Obviously, for the Olympics, every team gets about the same amount. But for this, the European teams always have more preparation. Obviously, this year, you look at our talent pool that got put out of the playoffs or didn’t make the playoffs, and it’s a pretty special group. This is a year where we feel this is a team that could play in the Olympics and could compete. We want to win this bad. We know this is a big opportunity for us.”

For him, it’s also an opportunity for vindication after a tough NHL season. The Avalanche missed the playoffs, finishing 11th in the Western Conference. That was a big let-down after coming second in the conference in 2013-14 under rookie head coach Patrick Roy.

“I think we just had a terrible start to this season,” said Duchene. “Sometimes you’ve got to take a step backwards before you can take a step forward. I think this year’s going to end up being a blessing in disguise for us.”

With all that said, Duchene wasn’t bad in 2014-15. He matched his third-highest career points total, going 21-34-55 in 82 games. Drafted third overall in 2009 by his favourite NHL club, the former star of the OHL’s Brampton Battalion has scored 20 or more goals in four of his six pro seasons.

Pursuing hockey has paid off big-time for this young man, who began skating at age four. His parents spent an estimated $320,000 CDN on his minor hockey career. Now, he's heading into the third year of a five-year, $30-million US contract.

Here in Prague, he’s getting yet another close-up view of Crosby, widely regarded as the game’s premier offensive player. The Pittsburgh Penguins captain could join the IIHF Triple Gold Club if he adds a World Championship this year to his two Olympic titles and 2009 Stanley Cup ring.

“I spend a lot of time with Sid,” said Duchene. “In the summertime we train together. He’s a guy I look up to a lot, and I think everyone in the game does. I don’t think there’s a better ambassador for our game, on or off the ice.”

Outside of hockey, one of Duchene’s great passions is country music. In March in Denver, he got to meet Garth Brooks, the best-selling country artist of all-time with close to 150 million records sold worldwide. Duchene sings and plays guitar, and he can pull off a mean rendition of the Brooks classic “Friends in Low Places.” Naturally, he was thrilled.

“That was amazing,” said Duchene. “I’m part of his charity [the Teammates for Kids Foundation] and I got a chance to go up and sound-check with him. I played a couple of songs with him and the band. He let me play the guitar he plays on stage and use his headset and stuff. It was pretty cool.”

To relax in the off-season, Duchene is an avid fisherman. In his dream scenario, he’d like to take a page out of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

“I’m not going to be able to do it this year, but I’d love to catch a marlin,” he explained. “I usually do deep-sea fishing once a year, and I’ve caught some real nice fish, but not the marlin I’m looking for yet. Back home in Ontario, I’d love to just catch a trophy trout or walleye.”

For now, his main objective is to see that Germany ends up fishing the puck out of its net more often than Canada does when the two sides clash on Sunday.

“They always play hard. All these teams now, there’s no easy games any more in this tournament. In the past, there were games where you’d really see Canada blow some teams out. But now, we’ve got to earn it if we’re going to blow anybody out. We’re just looking to score one more goal than the other team each game.”


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