Watch out, Quinton Byfield has stepped up his game.
The second overall pick in the NHL draft, who had been quiet offensively despite playing a sound game, scored twice and added four assists as Canada beat Switzerland 10-0 Tuesday night.
Canada has won all three games so far at the world junior hockey tournament in Edmonton, and the ice was just as tilted for Canada against Switzerland as it was in the opener against Germany.
“Each game we keep on building, building a lot of chemistry and getting more comfortable with the way that (the coaches) want us to play,” Byfield said. “We just keep on getting better each game and that’s what it has to be in a short tournament like this.”
Byfield used his size, strength and smarts to score and pile up assists, including a nifty no-look pass to Philip Tomisano for the game opener for what stood as the game-winner. Canada managed 50 shots, 27 from the slot, and dominated every facet of the game.
Jacob Pelletier scored twice, with Dylan Cozens, Ryan Suzuki, Connor McMichael, Cole Perfetti and Kaiden Guhle also scoring for Canada.
Canadian coach Andre Tourigny likes what he has seen as the tournament turns a corner for Canada and gets a bit tougher with a showdown against Finland coming Thursday.
“We have more structure, we have more confidence, we know more who we are,” said the coach. “We are a hard forechecking team. We have the ability to counter attack really quickly and strike quickly. We have big bodies who can get in on the forecheck and create a lot of turnovers. Our defence skated really well and, again, killed plays in the neutral zone. So we know better who we are.”
- White noise: It seemed absurd that some Canadian followers called out Byfield after he “only” had three assists after two games. They remember he hadn’t scored a goal last year at the world juniors. There was a lot of noise on social media. But Byfield asserted himself Tuesday.
“I went through last year’s tournament without a goal, and it definitely hurt a little bit,” he said. “You want to get one and contribute. Getting that goal, definitely you feel like you’re contributing. It’s a big relief.”
In fact, after he scored his first goal he mimed as if he was getting a monkey off his back as he went back to the bench.
“The boys have been super supportive. Once I scored that goal, I got a lot of laughs, a lot of congrats. They were happy for me.”
- They call him Q: Byfield, still 18 and the youngest player on Canada’s star-studded squad, is one of six returning members from last year’s gold-medal squad. He didn’t play a lot in that tournament, mostly as the 13th forward, but his versatility, and his ability to dominate when he’s on the ice, makes him invaluable to coach Andre Tourigny.
“Q brings more than people give him credit for,” Tourigny said. “Q brings physicality. He’s a relentless player. He brings a lot of competitiveness. He’s one of our best guys on faceoffs. He has size, he’s tough to play against. I think he disturbs the opponent a lot. He’s tough to play against. That’s what we’re looking for.
“Everyone looks at the scoresheet when they look at Q, but I think he brings more than that. I don’t know what will be his production, but I know he’s an effective and important player for us.”
- Mapping it out: Canada also iced its first full lineup, with Braden Schneider back from suspension, and Dylan Holloway back from an upper body injury.
The Swiss played, well, like the Swiss. They were punctual, reserved and not very outgoing. The Swiss had no drafted players in the lineup, though six on the roster become eligible this summer.
The first three games have felt more like exhibition games for Canada. Even though that’s what the group portion is for when it comes to hockey’s powers, this year it’s felt that way even more so for Canada. Only five players had played a game since March due to pandemic restrictions.
And just like training camp, coaches like to map out progress. Tourigny couldn’t have mapped out events better. An easy game vs. Germany for the Canadians to find their legs and their confidence. A harder game against Slovakia to remind his team that nothing should be taken for granted. What was missing? Special teams.
- Power play: Tourigny said himself prior to the game against the Swiss he really didn’t know what to make of his power play. It went 2-for-3 against an undermanned Germany team and 0-for-2 against Slovakia.
So, like clockwork, here came the Swiss and a penalty-filled first period. Canada went 0-for 3 in the first period, but connected twice in the second period as it built a 5-0 lead and again in the third as the game got out of hand. Canada went 3-for-6.
- Penalty killing: Ditto, the penalty killers got some work as Canada lacked a bit of discipline, which is certainly the next thing Tourigny will want to work on. Canada took six minors, but Devon Levi was there to stop what little the Swiss could get through.
- Captain update: Kirby Dach said he was flattered by Canada’s commitment to leave him as the captain of record even though he broke his wrist prior to the tournament and could not play. “It’s pretty special,’ Dach told TSN between periods.
Dach, who did not play in the tournament last year because he had made the NHL out of camp, lobbied the Blackhawks to let him play. He’ll be out four to five months after wrist surgery, suffered in a mid-ice collision against Russia in a pre-tournament game.
“It was a fluke thing,” Dach said. “I really thought my stick broke because of the sound it made. I looked down at my hand. It didn’t feel the best. It didn’t really look right. So I headed off and got the doctors involved pretty quickly.”
- No COVID: The IIHF is breathing a sigh of relief since no players have tested positive since Dec. 24. The federation has conducted 2,590 COVID-19 tests since Christmas Day, when the tournament began, with no new positives. Also, five more players from Germany have been released from quarantine and can rejoin their team for the tournament.
- Up next: Canada has Wednesday off, and plays Finland on Thursday for what should determine the Group A champion.