As the NHL season takes a temporary pause due to rising concerns over the Omicron variant of COVID-19, there hasn’t been much hockey to watch of late. Luckily for any hockey-starved fans, the World Junior Hockey Championship remained a go in Alberta, beginning for Team Canada with a tune-up game against the Russians in Edmonton.
Our perennial favourites didn’t disappoint, riding a stellar first period to a big lead that they never relinquished.
It all started with an early power play for Canada, which appears to be a rather unstoppable unit if this game is any indication. Some excellent puck movement led to Mason McTavish down in front, beating Yaroslav Askarov to open the scoring.
Then it was Ridley Greig’s turn, getting in on Askarov and putting home a rebound to make it 2-0. The officials appeared to miss the puck going into the net, as they didn’t initially signal a goal, but upon review they confirmed what Greig knew well before them.
And they just kept on rolling. A neutral zone turnover gave McTavish another chance to get in on Askarov, but he elected to fire a pass across to Kent Johnson, who unleashed an absolute rocket of a shot to make it 3-0 for Canada.
And Canada’s power play was looking to show that they will be a force to be reckoned with. Later in the period, some more excellent puck movement with the man advantage led to Jake Neighbours finding Lukas Cormier, who had a wide open net to make it 4-0.
Things went off the rails somewhat in the second period, as the Canadians found some significant penalty trouble. On an early Russian power play, Semyon Demidov attempted a pass into the middle that deflected off a skate and past Dylan Garand to make it 4-1 and giving life to his team.
Then it was Matvei Michkov — a potential top pick in the 2023 draft — then made his presence felt as well. After another Canadian penalty, he fired a one-timer from the faceoff dot and buried it to bring the Russians back within two.
But Canada still looked formidable when they weren’t taking mountains of penalties. With less than five minutes in the period, McTavish accepted a pass n the right side and absolutely undressed Askarov before sliding the puck over the line and making it 5-2 for Canada.
Russia, for their part, were determined to make this a game. Alexander Pashin would once again bring his team within two by scoring a very tough angle goal late in the period. As formidable as Canada looked, the Russians were proving that they could hang.
In the third period, it was the 16-year-old’s turn to get in on the action for Canada. Cole Perfetti fired a beautiful pass over to Connor Bedard in front of the net, and he dangled Askarov before firing the puck in to make it 6-3.
Michkov simply could not tolerate a 6-3 loss, however, as he would get one more back with a screaming one timer with less than a minute on the clock.
But it was too little, too late, as it ended in a solid 6-4 win to kick start Canada’s quest for a gold medal. Now they’ll look to finalize their lineup ahead of the real thing when they open their tournament against Czechia on boxing day.
- Shane Wright and Connor Bedard might be the biggest names among Canada’s forwards, but the best of the night was probably Mason McTavish. His second goal was a great display of his puck skills, and you can’t say enough about his pass to set up Johnson’s goal in the first. He could be a huge asset for the Canadians in this tournament.
- Bedard was the extra forward coming into the game, but we saw some of the skills that make him a potential first-overall pick in 2023. He didn’t get a lot of minutes at even strength, but after his goal in the third, I suspect he may be in for more the next time Canada plays.
- Another major asset will clearly be their power play. As someone who normally spends their time cheering for the Montreal Canadiens, it was striking to see the puck movement from that unit. Teams are going to want to avoid penalty trouble at all costs against these Canadians.
- As for the Habs prospect watch, Kaiden Guhle looked very solid if unspectacular. What really stood out is his release when shooting from the blue line — quick and deceptive, it will serve him well in this tournament. Canada is running exclusively left-handed defencemen, so I wonder if they try him on the right side at all in this tournament to take advantage of some one-timers.