Some words come to mind with how Canada has played through the first four games of the world junior hockey championship: Dominant. Superb. Commanding.
But those words seem to fail to explain how good Canada has been through four victories in Edmonton’s Roger’s Place.
Thursday’s result against Finland — an actual hockey power — was the same as results against Germany, Slovakia and Switzerland. A Canadian win. Canada won 4-1 to sweep the group-stage games, outscoring its opponents 33-4 along the way.
“At his at this point, it’s all about performance,” Canadian coach André Tourigny said. “You can be happy about a performance or you can be proud of a performance. Both are good, but being proud of your performance is even better, and we’re on the right side of it today.”
Finnish coach Antti Pennanen summed it up differently: “They have lots of good player on the ice.”
- Tilted ice: Dylan Cozens had two goals, including an empty-netter. Dylan Holloway and Peyton Krebs had singles.
The only reason the game didn’t get out of hand: Finland had pretty good goaltending from Kari Piiroinen. The Canadian team basically doesn’t let the other team have the puck. The ice is tilted.
The Canadians were relentless in pursuing the puck, playing for long stretches in Finland’s end.
“The biggest thing, we were in the offensive zone so much,” Cozens said. “It was tough for them to get in our zone. It started in the offensive zone, and shutting them down right away with their zone entries.”
Indeed, the puck was in the Finnish end for more than 32 minutes, and on Canadian sticks for more than 10 minutes, as measured by Sportlogiq. The puck was in the Canadian end for under 11 minutes, on Finnish sticks for under four minutes.
“We got the win, and got first place,” said defenceman Bowen Byram.
- A tougher opponent: Both teams were undefeated coming in to the game. Finland has been Canada’s equal in recent years at the world juniors. Dating back to 2014, each team has won three golds. Only the Americans (2017) have interrupted the streak.
Canada still led 3-0 after outshooting the Finns 17-1 in the first period and 18-6 in the second, until Finland came to life in the third. It was Brad Lambert, a Finn with roots in Saskatchewan, who scored Finland’s goal, set up by Leafs prospect Topi Niemela.
The late Finnish push was probably a good lesson for the Canadians, reminding them that sometimes you have to play in your own end. It also gave goalie Devon Levi a reason to be dressed. He has yet to face 20 shots in a game. He was solid, the only goal coming off a deflection.
- What does it mean: In some ways, the outcome was meaningless. Both teams had punched tickets to the quarterfinals. And since you can’t control your opponent — it’s determined by the order of finish in both groups — there may not be much of a difference between finishing first or second.
But that means little to the Canadians. The New Year’s Eve Game is a big deal to the players. It’s typically the most important of the round robin, though it’s typically against the Americans or Russians. And it’s a game the Canadians want to win.
“We want to win every game,” Tourigny said. “We came here to win every game. And every game we feel the urgency to win. We are a proud team, a proud county. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to win our games. How important is it? I don’t know. I don’t measure it. I just want to win every game.”
- Finnish goaltending: For some reason, Piiroinen, who played two seasons with the OHL Windsor Spitfires, has not been drafted. Finnish goalies were all the rage for a while, with Pekka Rinne (Nashville), Tuukka Rask (Boston) and Joonas Korpisalo (Columbus) carrying on the tradition. NHL managers should be calling their amateur scouts after Piiroinen’s performance against Canada. He was the best player in a Finnish jersey. Canada launched 42 shots at the Finnish net. Canada’s “expected goals” — a function of the quality of their chances — were 6.13, according to Sportlogiq, a nod to Piiroinen’s solid night.
- Maple Leafs watch: The Finns have three of the Leafs’ six prospects at this tournament: Defenceman Mikko Kokkonen (third round, 2019), Niemela (third round, 2020) and centre Roni Hirvonen (second round, 2020). They had been getting glowing reviews for the first three games, Niemela in particular. He has two goals, five assists and points in every game. It was tough to assess their performance given how overwhelmed the entire Finnish team was against Canada. Safe to say, one game does not a career make.
- Up next: The Canadians have yet to be challenged. They’ve scored in the first five minutes of every game so far, and have never trailed. Every Canadian has a point. The ice time is spread around. If a player gets hurt, scratched or suspended, another high level NHL prospect steps in.
“When you have that level of depth, you have to use it,” said Tourigny.
Things get a little more difficult now that the tournament has hit the quarterfinal stage, but the Czechs shouldn’t offer much more resistance than Finland on Saturday, though they did beat Russia earlier in the tournament. The stakes are higher now. The winner carries on. The loser goes home.
“The Czechs did us a favour by beating the Russians, to remind us how good they can be,” Tourigny said. “It will be shame on us to (take them lightly). We feel the urgency of the situation. We know they’re a proud country and they will fight, so there’s no way we’ll take them lightly.”