Canada, Russia begin with victories

AP , INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA

Mon, May 02, 2005 - Page 20

Two-time defending champion Canada and Russia both struggled before winning their opening games Saturday at ice hockey's World Championship.

Canada, trying to win a third straight world title for the first time since 1950-1952, held off Latvia 6-4 behind three goals by Rick Nash at Innsbruck's Olympiahalle, site of two Olympic tournaments.

"Anyone can see that we can play a lot better," said Canadian defenseman Sheldon Souray, who played with Farjestad in Sweden this season during the North American National Hockey League lockout.

Russia, an impressive winner over Sweden in last week's European Hockey Tour final, beat Austria 4-2 after the host nation tied the score midway through the last period in Vienna, the Austrian capital.

In late games, Finland edged Denmark 2-1 in Innsbruck while Slovakia nipped Belarus 2-1 in Vienna.

Jere Karalahti and Niko Kapanen scored for Finland, a surprising runner-up in last year's World Cup won by Canada. Kasper Degn scored a late goal for Denmark.

Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa scored for Slovakia, while Konstantin Koltsov replied for Belarus. It was like a home game for Slovakia with thousands of Slovaks crossing the border to pack the arena.

Canada led 5-2 after two periods and appeared headed to an easy victory.

But Janis Sprukts and Karlis Skrastins both beat Canadian goalie Martin Brodeur within 2:44 midway the second period to get Latvia within a goal and excite Latvia's drum-beating fans.

"We have a good team in this locker-room so I wasn't worried," said Joe Thornton, who scored one of three power-play goals for Canada in the second period.

"Even when the score was 5-4, you can't get nervous with the team we've got. We knew we were were going to get the next goal."

Nash, who skated with Davos in Switzerland this season, completed his hat trick with less than six minutes left, tapping in a low, soft shot past goalie Arturs Irbe, who has plenty of NHL experience and replaced starter Edgars Masalskis after Canada took a 5-2 lead.

"The only thing that didn't work was our box play," Latvian head coach Leoniz Bresnevs said. "We gave up four power-play goals."

Brendan Morrison, who also played in Sweden this season, scored for Canada just 2:55 in a power-play goal. Aleksandrs Semjonovs tied it 1-1, 34 seconds later.

Patrick Marleau restored Canada's lead 7:49 into the second period and Girts Ankipans tied it a second time 3:06 later.

"We're not where we want to be yet," Canada coach Marc Habscheid said. "We forced a lot of pucks, we created some turnovers for the Latvians and they jumped on the opportunities.

"We're happy we got the win. We learned a few things tonight. We have to clean up a certain areas of our game."

Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Kharitonov, Alexei Kovalev and Ilya Kovalchuk scored for Russia.

"We had a good start into the match, but failed to close the game early," Russian coach Vladimir Krikunov said.

"Nonetheless, we got the win and that's all that matters. After all, our aim is to win gold and that is only possible by defeating everyone in our way."