The World Juniors are upon us! Let's all rejoice in the fact that we get a full 82 game NHL season, a WJHC, AND the Olympics this season. Remember last year when we were mired in an NHL labour dispute and the WJHC was our first taste of hockey (aside from Major Junior) all year?
This is what Christmas is supposed to feel like.
Canada kicked things off against Finland in a tune-up game Friday morning.
The first period surely did not go as planned. Finland opened the scoring with a goal from Jusso Ikonen, and then a shorthanded marker from Esa Lindell made the score two to nil. Despite controlling the play for the most part, Canada was facing an undeserved two goal deficit. I was starting to feel that "the sky is falling" feeling as I am definitely one of those over-reactive passionate fans.
Luckily for my nerves, Bo Horvat from Connor McDavid and Sam Reinhart cut the Finns lead in half heading into the second. The Zamboni did break down prior to the game, causing a delay, which may have led to some sluggishness from the Canadians, but let's not play the Boston wheel of excuses. The Canadian side was mostly controlling the play, but Zachary Fucale looking shaky was extra stressful for me as he is not only on team Canada, but a Habs prospect. Nonetheless, Canada headed into the second with a manageable deficit.
The second was where the team really started to Gel. Not one minute into the period, Bo Horvat won a draw in the finnish zone, and Connor McDavid found Mathew Dumba to tie the game at two apiece. They were all over the Finns in this period, and it was more of what I expected to see. Towards the end of the period Anthony Mantha found Aaron Ekblad for a goal that put the Canadians on top by one. Fucale started to settle in after the first, but I noticed the Finns hitting a lot of posts in this game, more on that later.
In the third period the Finns began to generate some pressure, but when they did Fucale stood tall. Canada once again controlled most of the play and looked poised for a sure victory. That victory was ensured by Anthony Mantha, who stole the puck from a Finnish defender, raced in on a breakaway and fired a beauty shot through Ville Husso.
The players of the game in my opinion were clearly Anthony Mantha and Connor McDavid.
Mantha's goal in the third was a magnificent solo effort where he stole the puck from a defender, flew down ice and sniped one on the far side. McDavid had a stellar two point game, which as a 16 year old is quite remarkable. The line of McDavid and Sam Reinhart, centered by Bo Horvat was phenomenal. That line is going to be a big thing for Canada in this year's tournament.
Honourable mentions for this game should go to Chris Bigras and Kerby Rychel. Both generated four shots on net apiece, and while they were held off the score sheet, I really liked both of their play. Rychel was penalized with a two and a ten for a hit from behind that was correctly called, but other than that I really liked his play.
As a side note, the officiating, which I usually complain about non stop in the NHL, was very good. They called faceoff violations so unbelievably well that they should run a clinic for the NHL refs. They called penalties so well I want to just bring them to North America and replace all of the NHL refs with them. Guys like Chris Lee and Tim Peel can go ref the Swedish League.
On to the Habs prospects, because this is EOTP after all.I'll start with the most recent of picks in goaltender Zachary Fucale. As I mentioned he had a shaky start, but seemed to settle down in the second and third periods. The two first period goals were caused by giveaways that led to scoring chances, but it looked to me as if he could have stopped both. Also, the Finns hit a lot of posts in this game. Some people believe that goaltenders can make guys hit the posts with good positioning that forces shooters to aim wider than they'd like. Others believe that hitting the posts means you beat the tendy but not the frame of the net. Depending on your school of thought, he either had a good game or a really bad one. TSN needs to get their stats together, because I can't get the same answer more than once on the shot totals. Their box score says he made 25 saves on 27 shots. Their short game recap says he made 11 saves on 13 shots. And his post game interview says he made 31 saves... I'm inclined to go with the first one, the box score, because I know it wasn't 13 shots and I also don't think they put up more than 30.
Of more pressing concern to me was the invisibility of Charles Hudon. I thought he wasn't even playing until I saw him on the bench midway through the first period. I'm not exactly fretting about him yet, but this game didn't make me any more excited about him as a prospect, or as a player on this year's team. He put up one shot for the game and went -1, if you care about +/-. Extra Skater doesn't do world junior games to my knowledge and that's my go to for fancy stats. If anyone has a better source for me, I'd love to hear it.
Artturi Lehkonen was also pretty much a non-factor in the game. According to TSN he had one shot on goal, but I don't even remember seeing it. He wasn't as invisible as Hudon, though. I noted his skating and stickhandling as being quite good, and he definitely caught my eye as one of the strongest players on the Finnish side.
This team is quite good, and they played Finland without Jonathan Drouin, who is arguably the best player on the roster. Perhaps this team is the one that can end Canada's gold medal drought in this tournament. It's too early to call that, but this one game shows some promise.
The team is also not yet finalized as they have some cuts to come still. After the game they let go forward Hunter Shinkaruk and defenseman Damon Severson. I'm not very familiar with Severson, but Shinkaruk is a name I know, and him being cut is somewhat of a surprise to me. Particularly because I didn't think he had too bad a game. There are still a few cuts to come, but the team is taking form now and things look good.
I'm sorry it took so long for me to get this article done. I was up at 6:30 pacific time to watch the game and then had to work. Maybe you don't care because it's pre-tournament and all but nonetheless, like a true Canadian, I apologize. I'm going to go have a drink now and be happy about the fact that we won't have to face Alex Galchenyuk when we eventually meet the Americans. Sorry Scott, but HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.