With a brand new World Juniors the proverbial slate has been wiped clean for Team Canada. A fresh new coach and a squad full of under experienced teenagers join the ranks of former greats playing at this prestigious event.
Game one of the journey to potential gold began yesterday afternoon as a late Christmas present to anxious Canadians. The pre-tournament action had yielded ‘iffy’ results, to say the least, in the eyes of everyone watching. More importantly, the exhibition with the Finnish national team had yesterday’s round robin game against the Finns being revered as a virtual toss up. Excitedly to myself and I’m sure to my fellow Canadians, aside from the 1st stages, the game was no toss up. The Canadians came out in full form with a massive Albertan crowd behind them.
Canada began by simply dominating the boards play, battles and cycle game, doing a great job of keeping it low, drawing in the inexperienced, young Finn defenders and working magic with soft passes to the slot. The Finns themselves did manage to do a great job early, chipping away at the Canadians with well timed and placed body checks, while setting up an excellent cycle game, not the norm of course with most European squads. It goes without saying that the Finns generated a generous portion of their chances off the rush as well. However, when the game was still up for grabs the Canadians did a superb job defensively limiting the Finnish chances, by keeping the Finns to the outside and pushing the forwards to back check hard for the puck and collapse down low in front of the net when needed.
Aside from the team, individually, I had a lot of mixed emotions about the new group of Canadians. Some good, some bad…no ugly though (no one played bad enough to make that pun). I was unimpressed mostly with the play of Brett Connolly, offensively he seemed somewhat lacking, especially considering the expected level of output from an NHL experienced offensive threat. Defensively I saw turnovers and more so than that lack of commitment to his own end, not back checking at full pace, losing key battles along the boards and more. The only other negative seemed to come from Mark Visentin. An 8-1 win is a success for any goalie but coming out of camp Mark needed to work on his main weakness, however, it was very evident in a few stages of the game, Visentin showed great weakness getting pulled out of his net while sliding across all too easy leaving the net wide open to opposing players in front or in the slot.
Mike Stone and Jonathan Huberdeau were blatantly obvious positives to anyone who watched the game or at least saw the resulting statistics. Less in the spotlight, the Hamilton brothers, Dougie and Freddie, played very impressive in their own respective roles. And of course, the line led by NHL’er Smith-Pelly was excellent at producing much needed energy/hard fore checking shifts. Sadly enough, an update this morning says Smith-Pelly broke his foot blocking a shot in the game, I doubt he will be available for the rest of the tournament. Apart from that setback Canada’s 8-1 victory was a big step forward in a potential gold medal run. Next match up will pit the Canadians against the always tough Czechs on the 28th at 8 ET.
In honour of Canada’s captain and as a way of saying good luck to the young Canadian squad, “May the Schwartz be with you!”
Writer for Hockey Independent and Inside Hockey
Freelance Writer for PuckLife Magazine