For the five returning players from Canada’s sixth-place finish at last year’s World Junior Hockey Championship, this tournament is a chance at redemption.
“We want to move forward and we want to forget about it,” said forward Julien Gauthier. “Of course it was a good experience last year but I think we want to win this year and we expect nothing else than the gold.”
“You want to forget about where you finished in the tournament but not about the experience you gained.”
And Canada, like last year, won all three of their pre-tournament games. They also beat the Czech Republic at selection camp, and swept the U Sports All-Star team before that. However, the method they won the games - except for the final game against Switzerland - bodes well.
Canada outscored the Czech Republic and Finland 18-0, and took a 3-0 lead on Switzerland before allowing them to force overtime in a 4-3 win. Coach Dominique Ducharme said that one of the main goals of pre-tournament play was to show improvement in every game, and besides a short blip against the Swiss they did that.
And for all the talk of Canada’s poor finish last year, in reality, they had leads of 2-0 and 3-2, and were tied 5-5 with the eventual gold medal winners Finland in the quarterfinal.
Their biggest downfall was a 2-2 group stage with losses to the United States and Sweden (and shootout win vs Switzerland). That forced a tough draw in the quarter final.
|Player||Position||League||Current team||NHL rights|
|Player||Position||League||Current team||NHL rights|
|Carter Hart||G||WHL||Everett||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Connor Ingram||G||WHL||Kamloops||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Jake Bean||D||WHL||Calgary||Carolina Hurricanes|
|Thomas Chabot||D||QMJHL||Saint John||Ottawa Senators|
|Kale Clague||D||WHL||Brandon||Los Angeles Kings|
|Dante Fabbro||D||NCAA||Boston University||Nashville Predators|
|Noah Juulsen||D||WHL||Everett||Montreal Canadiens|
|Jeremy Lauzon||D||QMJHL||Rouyn-Noranda||Boston Bruins|
|Philippe Myers||D||QMJHL||Rouyn-Noranda||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Mathew Barzal||F||WHL||Seattle||New York Islanders|
|Anthony Cirelli||F||OHL||Oshawa||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Dillon Dubé||F||WHL||Kelowna||Calgary Flames|
|Pierre-Luc Dubois||F||QMJHL||Cape Breton||Columbus Blue Jackets|
|Julien Gauthier||F||QMJHL||Val d'Or||Carolina Hurricanes|
|Mathieu Joseph||F||QMJHL||Saint John||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Tyson Jost||F||NCAA||University of North Dakota||Colorado Avalanche|
|Michael McLeod||F||OHL||Mississauga||New Jersey Devils|
|Taylor Raddysh||F||OHL||Erie||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Nicolas Roy||F||QMJHL||Chicoutimi||Carolina Hurricanes|
|Blake Speers||F||OHL||Sault Ste Marie||New Jersey Devils|
|Mitchell Stephens||F||OHL||Saginaw||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Dylan Strome||F||OHL||Erie||Arizona Coyotes|
Canada’s scoring is ridiculously balanced. Looking at their lineup, any one of the top three lines can be chosen as the ‘breakout’ line, and the fourth line also has a ton of offensive talent.
The roster doesn’t have a Connor McDavid type of superstar player on the team, and they don’t even have a Mitch Marner. But most of the 13 forwards on the team can put on a display and become tournament MVP.
Strome and Mathew Barzal are getting all the attention, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone like Tyson Jost or Mathieu Joseph run away with the team scoring lead.
“It doesn’t matter if you have a superstar or not,” said Gauthier. “If every guy is moving in the right direction, that’s how you win games.”
Dylan Strome will be asked to provide leadership and is likely Canada’s top forward in the tournament. He is one of the four returning forwards with Gauthier, Mitchell Stephens, and Barzal.
Canada’s goaltending has been questionable over the past few tournaments, but except for a slight blemish against Switzerland, Carter Hart seems to be the guy Canada will run with, rewarding that confidence in the process. He is the best goaltender in the WHL, with a 16-7-0 record and a .928 save percentage.
In 180 minutes of action over four games, Hart allowed three goals - all to the Swiss in his final pre-tournament game. His play speaks to Canada’s defensive game, and that is a major strength for this Canadian team.
Although we mentioned Canada’s forward balance as a strength, the weakness can be that there is not one guy that Canada can rely on. You can expect it to be Strome, but there’s some danger in not having one guy above everyone else.
The same thing with goaltending. Hart has been very good through camp, as has Connor Ingram, but they are both prone to having lapses and in a short tournament, it can come back to haunt you as well.
The goaltending issues could be compounded by the fact that Canada only has one defenceman returning from last year.
Thomas Chabot is joined by six newcomers, including final cut from a year ago, Montreal Canadiens prospect Noah Juulsen. The inexperience can be a downfall in a short tournament, but the unit has played very well in pre-tournament games.
The big issue for Canada through their quarterfinal exit a year ago and the pre-tournament games has been indiscipline. They have taken far too many penalties and that is usually a huge equalizer against some of the less-talented teams in the tournament.
Slovakia won bronze two years ago backed by strong goaltending and Martin Reway. Canada, on paper has one of the stronger teams in the tournament but they need to be playing games at even strength.
There are so many forwards I can choose in this section. Like I said in the strengths section, any one of Canada’s forwards can have a great couple of weeks and lead this team to the gold medal.
I really like Mathieu Joseph. He has 25 goals in 29 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs, and the Tampa Bay fourth-round pick has skill to burn. His line with Barzal and Taylor Raddysh can be one of the best lines in this tournament. Raddysh, who leads the OHL in scoring, is another guy who can become the darling of the tournament.
Tyson Jost, and Blake Speers are two other talented forwards outside of Canada’s top line (of Strome, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mitchell Stephens) who have had strong pre-tournament games and could break a game open.
On defence, I really like the game of Philippe Myers. Myers played himself onto the team with a great selection camp opener and never looked back. He will get power play time, and play with Thomas Chabot.
Juulsen may not put up many points, but if Canada is holding onto a lead, he’ll more than likely be the guy relied on on the right side, as well as taking care of business during penalty kills.
The host country has won the last two World Junior Hockey Championships and it would be a disappointment if Canada is not playing for Gold on January 5. Going further, the host nation has earned a medal in every tournament since 2009.