Picture Credit (with permission) to Reddit User /u/Fun_With_Forks
You’ve been there before, Canada. But it’s been a while, for sure. World Junior gold medal game, against Russia, on home ice. What more could you ask for? While other rivalries will emerge, no two countries have meant more to the international hockey scene.
And oh, they got there with an initially close but eventual 5-1 victory over Slovakia.
Few were predicting a Slovakia win, especially after Canada defeated them handily in an 8-0 Boxing Day matchup.
Canada came in as the clear favourites on the night, and controlled play for much of the evening. The tournament host pulled ahead in the first with a 1-0 power play goal by Nic Petan, which was signs of bigger things to come. While Canada wasn’t outplayed by any means, there were some worrisome moments early on while the game was tight. The game remained a one-goal affair through 38 minutes.
“They’ll be fine,” you thought. But there was definitely some doubt there in your mind, for sure. Canada’s definitely proven nothing is guaranteed in international hockey. After five years without a gold medal after five straight, and four years since being in the gold medal game, (against Russia, no less), it’s understandable Canadians were worried.
Thankfully, Nic Petan wasn’t. After Petan scored his second goal to put Canada up 2-0 with under two minutes to go in the second period, a Canadian defenceman named Shea who wears #6 (Theodore, not Weber) added his first of the tournament to give Canada some real breathing room at 3-0 just over a minute later.
GIF: Anthony Duclair hits the brakes & feeds Shea Theodore for a goal – beautiful play from Canada http://t.co/nq4loizz0J
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 5, 2015
With four seconds left in the period, Canada got caught napping and gave up a goal to the Slovakian David Soltes, cutting the lead to 3-1 after forty. Fortunately for the home squad, they didn’t falter the rest of the way.
After assisting on the Theodore goal, Anthony Duclair scored what’s likely the highlight of the night with a high-skill play that needed just a little extra luck to find the back of the net, putting Canada up 4-1, which as we all know, is always insurmountable.
GIF: Anthony Duclair with a superb effort culminating in a bank shot goal from below the goal line http://t.co/w4ZcFgoofI
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 5, 2015
Petan completed the hat trick in the game’s final ten minutes, and Canada exhaled a little as they took a 5-1 lead.
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) January 5, 2015
Petan missed a chance for a fourth goal with just over six minutes to go in the third, which would have tied a single-game Canadian record at the tournament.
Setting up Petan all night were- (who else?) Connor McDavideoGameHands and Curtis “Kendrick” Lazar, who tallied three assists each. After a “slow start” (not having points in the first game), McDavid now has ten points in his last five games to rank second in tournament scoring, tied with teammate Sam Reinhart and behind… well, Nic Petan.
Canadian goalie Zach Fucale, though questioned by many, has been fantastic through the tournament. Fucale came into the national spotlight first as a Memorial-Cup winning goaltender at age 17 with the Halifax Mooseheads, but his numbers have been far worse to Canada’s other goalie, Eric Comrie’s in junior this year (just a .890 save percentage to Comrie’s .921). At the NHL level, that’s akin to starting Ben Scrivens over Carey Price’s numbers this season. But credit to Fucale, he’s looked and played every bit the goalie he’s needed to so far. Like Scrivens has in the past, he’s shown flashes of brilliance, (remember his NHL record 59 save shutout?) and in small sample sizes, any goalie with skill can play like an MVP. Yet Fucale’s temporarily silenced the doubters and he’s done everything he’s needed to so far, remaining undefeated through four starts, giving up just two goals so far. There was a late Slovakian disallowed goal on the night, but other than that, there’s no visible major faults in his play.
That being said, it might not be a horrible idea to go with Eric Comrie tomorrow night, only because the weird scheduling requires key games to be played on back-to-back nights. Sure, it would rile up some people. But at the NHL level, stats show goaltenders on back to back nights perform typically perform much worse than the first night before. Comrie at 100% rest is likely a better goalie than Fucale on no days of rest. If he pulls the move to start Comrie and wins tomorrow, Benoit Groulx will be hailed as a genius. If he loses, there will be the critics, but it’s definitely not a ridiculous opinion. By tomorrow, Comrie will be running on about four full days of rest since his last game, which is standard to what he’d be facing in the CHL. Unconventional? Maybe, but it might be a bad idea to bet on a well-rested Comrie, as long as there’s no other health or injury concerns. While Comrie did give up a somewhat soft goal late in his game against the Americans, there’s no reason to believe he’ll be suddenly guaranteed to do the same tomorrow night. It’s just an idea, though, and it’s likely you’ll see Fucale in the crease tomorrow.
Of note, while his numbers weren’t great, Slovakian goaltender Denis Godla made some ridiculous saves on the night, leading to a strong ovation following the game from the Canadian crowd.
I don’t think a player’s ever had a hat trick in a winning effort in an elimination game and not won player of the game. Kudos, Nic Petan, you made this obvious.
Around the tournament:
As you’ve probably heard or inferred by now, Russia won their semi-final game, where they defeated Sweden 4-1 earlier today. Perhaps it’s best for Leafs supporters to not to face their poster boy William Nylander in the final and face a dilemma of who to root for- although Leafs prospect Rinat Valiyev is on the Russian squad, albeit under considerably less fanfare. In pre-tournament action on the same ACC ice, Russia withstood a boatload of Canadian shots to eke out a 2-1 overtime win.
Last night, a Leon Draisaitl-less Germany fell to Switzerland, leading to their relegation from the tournament.
Tomorrow at 8 p.m. EST, Canada takes on Russia for all the marbles. A meaningful game at the Air Canada Centre? As the over-used TSN advertisements say, Here. We. Go.