So you wanted to see Canada play a tight game, did you?
After taking some heat for running up the score against an undermanned German team in Saturday’s opener, Canada got all it could handle from Slovakia at the world junior hockey championship on Sunday at Edmonton’s Rogers Place.
It looked for a while like Canada might need some of those goals against a defensively tight Slovak squad. But a win is a win, whether it’s 16-2 like Saturday or 3-1 Sunday.
It was the kind of game Canada felt it needed to play as the Slovaks gave them more of a challenge than perhaps they were expecting. The outcome was very much in doubt until Philip Tomasino scored on a breakaway late in the third, and Jack Quinn sealed it into the empty net with 13 seconds to go.
Even coach Andre Tourigny wanted to see his team play a tight game. He’s happy they won, of course, but seemed happier about what he learned.
“We grew as a group,” said Tourigny. “We learned to go through adversity, we learned to keep our composure. There were moments we were forcing things, but we learned to be patient, not panic. We played well defensively and in terms of possession. But at some point the guys wanted a result, wanted to score. You learn about your players when the pressure is on.”
- The opposition: The Slovaks represented a tougher opponent than Germany, but are really a hockey have-not these days. The country that produced Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik (and Martin Marincin for you Maple Leafs followers) has hit tough times in terms of producing NHLers. The country has had only three players drafted over the past two years. Two of them — captain Samuel Knazko, a defenceman, and winger Martin Chromiak, who scored — are at this event.
So Sunday’s game was an example of why they play the games for real. The Canadians needed to get their legs going.
“No matter the opponent, no matter the score, we just want to get better every game leading into the knockout round,” said forward Connor McMichael.
The Slovaks won their opener, shutting out the Swiss, and face Germany on Monday.
“We play as a team,” said Slovak coach Robert Petrovicky. “We lost, but I thought we played well. I’m proud of the guys. We just have to keep going.”
- No hangover: You had to wonder how Canada would react after beating Germany so easily. They came out strong, taking the first seven shots of the game. They dominated the first period both in possession and shots (9-4).
Playing without fans in the stands because of the pandemic also doesn’t seem to bother the hosts.
“It would be cool to play in front of the hometown crowd, but it’s out of our control. There’s nothing we can do,” said McMichael. “We’ve got guys who are good at hyping ourselves up and getting ready for the game. We know everyone is watching still, and we have support from our families. It’s not hard to get up for games.”
- Adversity? If there was adversity — and yes, it may be a stretch since a spot in the knockout round is already clinched — it’s that Canada only had a one-goal lead until late in the third.
The guy who scored the opener, defenceman Jordan Spence, had been scratched for the German game and played only because defenceman Braden Schneider had been suspended for a check to the head against Germany.
Even as Canada ran up the shot clock early and dominated puck possession, it was clear their game wasn’t right. There was no precision. Their passes were off. Their shots were missing the mark. The power play was sloppy. There was very little chemistry. They looked for all the world like a team that hadn’t played much hockey since March, which is precisely what they are.
As things turned out, it was more of a grind for Canada. The Slovaks collapsed around their goalie, making it difficult to get shots through. The Canadians completed just 14 of 47 pass attempts into the slot, according to SportLogiq, and managed just 12 shots from the slot; Canada got off 27 shot slots against Germany. Canada completed 130 of 207 passes altogether.
The Slovaks were also fast, and big. And patient, scoring late after Canada had made it 2-0, giving the world’s leading hockey country a reason to sweat.
“We had to keep grinding … winning loose puck battles and creating offence, getting shots at the net,” said Spence. “We needed to stay humble and not let distractions get in our way.”
- Net effect: Canadian goalie Devon Levi, who turned 19 on Sunday, made his second start in two nights. It’s not like he saw a lot of work against Germany, playing just two periods, so the hope was that he’d see a little bit more action against Slovakia. He did, turning aside 17 of 18 shots.
It does appear that Canada is not entirely certain about their goaltenders, though, and when the competition gets tougher in the knockout stage, Tourigny wants to know what he has in net.
“So far, he has not done a thing to put a doubt in our heads,” Tourigny said of Levi. “He’s been really solid.”
He may well have won the No. 1 job. The two goals he’s allowed so far have not been his fault, and he was the best part of Canada’s penalty killing against Slovakia (0-for-3).
“It’s definitely not easy to get eight shots the first two periods and then come into quite a few shots,” said Levi. “But it was it was a good challenge. I had fun. It was a good game and it being 1-0, it definitely kept me in it. It was tight, and I just stayed focused, stayed hot. I didn’t really play the score, but my focus was to concentrate on the next shot and that helped me stay hot.”
- Keep on ticking: The IIHF weighed in on Canada’s fourth goal in Saturday’s win, which seemed to count despite time having clearly expired — at least as far as TV replays showed. TSN’s commentators stood by their read of the play, saying the network was using the official time clock (the same feed as from the NHL) and was perplexed about why the goal counted.
The IIHF issued a statement Sunday that said basically: Trust us.
“Following the video review of Canada’s fourth goal against Germany at the end of the first period during their preliminary round game on 26 December, a discrepancy was identified between the game clock and the overhead goal clock of one-tenth of a second. Based on the information that the video goal judge had at the time and the referee’s call on the ice, the decision was to award the goal to Canada.
“After consultation with all involved parties it was determined that there was a technical miscommunication involving the game and overhead goal clock systems. The IIHF has corrected the issue to ensure proper timing is co-ordinated in all further reviews. This situation has now been resolved and the IIHF does not anticipate any further issues.”
- Up next: Canada gets a day off Monday before facing 0-2 Switzerland on Tuesday.