The World Junior Hockey Championship tends to gradually ramp up in its first week, with some low-key matchups starting things off before the top clubs clash in what prove to be battles for top spots in the groups. In 2020, things were a bit different, with marquee rivalries scheduled for the first day.
As Sweden and Finland got set to face off in Trinec, Czech Republic, the crowd at the arena in Ostrava was preparing to watch one of the greatest matchups the tournament offers: a high-tempo game between Team Canada and Team USA.
The U.S. were the ones able to overcome their nerves the quickest in the opening moments. They were in control of the puck early, and that pressure led to the game’s first power play just over two minutes in as Barrett Hayton went to the box for tripping.
A lineup filled with skilled players didn’t need long to capitalize. Forty-eight seconds into the advantage, Shane Pinto got his stick on a point shot from Zac Jones, and the U.S. had an early 1-0 lead.
That momentum held until the Americans took their first minor of the day. Canada used their first power play to register their first shot on U.S. netminder Spencer Knight. Hayton came the closest to evening the score, but his chances missed the mark.
The power play got Canada engaged, and they took over the game after what had been a difficult first six minutes. They were using their physicality to really put a stamp on their authority, and the U.S. forwards were having a tough time getting the puck through the neutral zone, let alone into Canada’s end to test Nico Daws again.
With under three minutes to go in the frame, Canada took their second penalty of the game, putting USA’s lethal power play back out. It took the Americans a little longer to find a goal this time, but not much. The first unit had just left the ice when the second fivesome jumped over the boards, and 1:13 into the advantage Arthur Kaliyev was celebrating the 2-0 goal after being set up by Alex Turcotte, after Trevor Zegras’s zone entry.
With a hill to climb in the second period, Canada found its way onto the scoreboard at the 3:32 mark of the middle period. At five-on-five, Kevin Bahl broke out of his zone with a bank pass up the boards. Akil Thomas got the puck into the Americans’ end, and Connor McMichael was given a mini break in on Knight to record the goal.
Just a few minutes later, Pinto was sent to the box to give Canada another power play. Mere seconds in, Alexis Lafrenière walked the puck along the blue line, getting all the defenders tracking that way, then quickly sent a puck in the opposite direction to connect with Hayton. After missing a few chances on Canada’s first power play, Hayton didn’t miss this perfect setup, knotting the game at two goals apiece.
With the period going fully in their favour, Canada turned the tide completely when Nolan Foote launched a perfect shot over the shoulder of Knight at 13:03, giving the Canadians their first lead of the contest.
A late power play for the U.S. threatened to undo all that good work. Even though there were just 16 seconds to play before the intermission, the Americans found a goal. Had there been 17 seconds to play Pinto’s marker would have stood as the tying tally, but review showed the clock had expired just moments before the puck had entered the net. Canada went into the break with a one-goal lead, but had a critical reminder of just how dangerous the opponent would be at the start of the third.
Canada surived the penalty in the third, and the two teams played the next eight minutes withour a whistle, with plenty of action at both ends of the ice. With everyone reset after the period’s first stoppage, Canada quickly got another power play, and they doubled their lead to two.
Lafrenière had shown he was going to fire the puck on his backhand, but at the last second sent it across to Hayton. The Arizona Coyotes player was quickly catching on to the skill level of his new linemate, and was ready and waiting to send his second goal of the game to back of the net.
Looking to be in command of the outcome, Canada was surprised by a tricky release from Nick Robertson off the rush not long afterward. The forward pulled the puck into a defender’s skate, disguising the shot just before he sent it past Daws to make it a 4-3 game.
On yet another power play, the U.S. found the tying goal. It was once again Pinto who scored it, joining Hayton with two man-advantage markers by deflecting a shot in right from within the crease.
On the ensuing centre-ice faceoff, the puck was won back in the direction of the Americans’ end. Lafrenière raced into the zone, getting in the lane between the two American defenders and intercepting the pass. Seven seconds after Pinto’s tying goal, the top prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft had his nation back on top once more.
With the net empty and the U.S. looking for another goal, Lafrenière got the puck out of his zone and up to the stick of Ty Dellandrea. Deallandrea carried the puck all the way to the vacated cage, calmly sealing a 6-4 victory for Team Canada.
Canada will next play on Saturday versus Russia. The United States will be back in action tomorrow, taking on Germany in one of two games to be played on Friday.