The World Juniors were held in Buffalo, New York over the holidays and Canada was favoured to finish in second, behind their rival Americans. Last year, the Americans were able to defeat the Canadians on home ice as an overtime goal sent the Canadians home with a disappointing silver medal. This year, it was on American soil and the Canadians were determined to win in their rival’s country to return the favour.
The tournament started off amazingly well for the Canadians with a convincing win over Russia on Boxing Day. Canada came out surprisingly slow as they entered the first intermission tied at one with a determined Russian team pushing the pace on every shift. The second period was more of the same as Russia kept pace with Canada and scored two goals in the frame to go into the second intermission tied at three. The third period is where Canada proved too much for Russia. Ryan Johansen capitalized on the power play to put Canada up for good and they eventually won 6-3. Ryan Ellis explained, “It’s a lot of guys’ first time here, so we just had to get used to the pace and needed a period or two to get into it.” Luckily, it worked out for Team Canada, as they scored six times to easily take the victory.
The next opponent Canada had to deal with was the Czech Republic. This game was a coming-out party for Brayden Schenn, who had a goal and four assists. Canada dominated the game from start to finish and the Czechs proved no match for Canada’s strong forecheck and physicality. Unfortunately, the news was not all good for Canada during this game when Jaden Schwartz suffered a fractured ankle—but in true Canadian fashion; he managed to play on it and scored despite the fracture. Another big loss for Canada was the power forward, Zack Kassian. He was kicked out due to a match penalty for a hit to the head and received a two-game suspension after further review. Despite the losses in players, Canada was able to trump the Czechs with a 7-2 victory as they looked towards Norway.
Heading into the Norway game, everyone knew the Canadians were going to score, but how many was the question. Schenn continued his dominance in the tournament as he scored four goals and added an assist to his growing Juniors resume. Another impressive performance by Ellis had reporters buzzing after the game as he surpassed every defenceman in points in the World Juniors. When he was told of the new record, he said, “That’s pretty awesome. I think that’s something for after your career, you enjoy—we’ll see how long that holds up, but that’s pretty cool.” Throughout the tournament, Ellis was humble and professional as he had the difficult task of being the captain of the most-watched team in World Juniors history.
Canada and Sweden would play a deciding game as the winner of their contest would receive an automatic bye into the semi-finals.
Sweden came out hard in the beginning of the game and forced Canada to adjust their play. Canada was able to adjust in the first period and a lucky bounce at the end of the period landed right on the stick of Curtis Hamilton, who fired it in the back of the net with one second left in the period to put Canada up 3-2. However, Sweden took it to the Canadians in the second period out-shooting them 33-19 through two periods. Shaky goaltending by Olivier Roy came to a head as it seemed every mildly difficult went in. The game went to a shootout as they exchanged goals in the third period to end the game tied. Roy’s shootout record had been well-broadcasted because he is known as a “shootout artist”. Canada must have liked their chances with Roy in net for the shootout, but Sweden beat him on two of their three shots to win the shootout and send the Canadians into the quarter-finals against Switzerland.
An early scare in the game against Switzerland had Canadian fans panicking only two minutes into the game because of a weak shot from behind the goal line managed to bank off Mark Visentin’s pad and into the back of the net for an early 1-0 lead for the Swiss. Luckily, Canada scored four unanswered goals for the victory to set up the most anticipated match of the tournament: a semi-final matchup between arch-rivals USA and Canada.
The stage was set, with the winner going to the final to play Team Russia, while the loser plays Team Sweden for a disappointing bronze. From the drop of the puck, Canada was flying. The crowd was outrageous; the stands were literally shaking from the noise and stomping of all the Canadian fans who made the trip to Buffalo (which was then known as Buffalo, Ontario). From the opening faceoff, Canada was relentless in their attack and physicality. Up until this game, USA had not seen a team with so much pressure and had not seen any team be this physical against them. Visentin commented on Canada’s efforts following the game: “We played 60 minutes like 22 brothers out there and didn’t let each other down. We worked the puck down low and played a crash-and-bang game.” To this statement Ellis added, “That was the best hockey game I have seen Canada play in a long time, I am just happy to be a part of it.” Canada made it look easy on the ice and USA had no answer. They managed to get one past Visentin but it was too little too late, as Canada took the game and the road to the finals with a convincing 4-1 victory over the much-favoured Team USA. This set the stage for another rival matchup as Team Russia awaited the winner.
Canada came out flying in the first period, chalking up two goals to enter the intermission. The second period began with yet another goal to put the Canadians up 3-0 early in the second and it looked all but over for Russia. Canada looked as though they were going to win their sixth gold in a remarkable seven years. However, something must have been said to Russia in the dressing room during intermission because something changed in the third. Russia came out in the third and absolutely destroyed Canada.
Their hard work paid off as Artemi Panarin scored an early goal to put the Russians on the board. Only 13 seconds later, Maxim Kitsyn snuck one past Visentin to put the Russians down only 3-2. Panic began to set in with the Canadians; it seemed as they were not getting the bounces, and Russia controlled the play throughout the third. They were faster and stronger and seemed to want the gold more than Canada. Their efforts were rewarded as the Russian captain, Vladimir Tarasenko, scored the tying goal to cap the comeback in just 13 minutes. By now, all momentum was on the Russian side and the noise in the HSBC Arena was no more. Canada was shocked, but the Russians were not done. They added two more goals to complete the shocking comeback and win the gold medal, stealing it almost literally out of Canada’s hands. When asked what happened, Louis Leblanc commented, “They got those two quick goals and everything went downhill from there. It all happened so fast. They are a great team and you have to give them credit, but it is very disappointing.” Watching these young men come out of the dressing room after their loss was clear evidence of how much they wanted to win for their country.
Despite the loss, Canada took home silver. The bright side for Canadian hockey fans is that most of the team is eligible next year and the team will be stronger than ever. There is always next year.