Team Canada entered the gold medal game as the potential favourite against Team USA. However, the Americans weren’t to be taken lightly as they always pose a threat. They were able to dethrone Canada to become World Junior Hockey Champions winning the gold medal, shutting them out 2-0.
Canada had a stacked roster, especially up front where all the forwards were first-round picks. They absolutely dominated the competition scoring 41 goals in six games at the tournament and having a plus-37 goal differential heading into the gold medal game. They were aggressive from the very start, displaying amazing speed and high-end skill.
They managed to go above and beyond. However, when the time came to play against the USA, the tables had turned on them. Canada was the front-runner from the beginning and after going 6-0 in the tournament, they seemed like a good bet to win the gold. However, they fell just short of a perfect ending to a momentous and memorable tournament that was difficult to play in.
Facing Adversity from the Start
From the very beginning, before the tournament even started, Canada was facing adversity. However, head coach Andre Tourigny didn’t see that as a reason why they couldn’t put their best foot forth.
“If you expect to go to the World Juniors and not have adversity, you’re in the wrong tournament,” Tourigny said in an article by TSN’s Mark Masters. “If you look at last year, we had a suspension, we had injuries, we had sickness, we had controversy and that’s the World Juniors.”
This time around, it was more immense.
Attending camp and being in a bubble as a result of a pandemic is difficult for everyone. After two scrimmages, Canada had to go into quarantine after there were two positive tests among its players as well as a Hockey Canada staff member. This put a halt to their on-ice activities until it was safe to return. This could easily take a toll on everyone, as this pandemic has affected everyone. A majority of the players had seen zero game time as a result of their leagues being on pause.
On top of that, the Canadians were dealt a significant blow as captain Kirby Dach’s tournament ended before it started after suffering a wrist injury that kept him out of the tournament.
Even though they were able to find a number of players to fill the void, it’s always a major blow no matter how deep a team is. Many may feel that Canada hasn’t quite faced adversity in the tournament as Team USA proved to be their best competition, but they were dealing with it from the very beginning.
It didn’t deter them from playing their game. They came in with a purpose with everything they faced as a team and they kept on fighting to the end. They were even in the conversation as one of the most dominant Canadian teams to play like in 1995 and 2005. Had they won it all, one could easily make that argument. Even though it wasn’t the result they wanted, they should be immensely proud of what they were able to accomplish knowing the circumstances.
Canada Outmatched With their Own Game Plan
Canada got off to a great start in the gold medal game, getting aggressive on the forecheck and taking a big lead on the shot clock early on. While they had that advantage, it was Team USA that seemed to still be one step ahead of them. They started to up their game and used Canada’s game plan against them.
While they had a smooth sailing journey to the finals, the USA proved to be their biggest test and they couldn’t climb the mountain. Tourigny once again reflected after the game that they were the first team to really push back against Canada and it took a while for Canada to find their footing.
An aggressive attack and great puck movement ultimately led to a 1-0 USA lead on a tip-in from Alex Turcotte. Anaheim Ducks prospect Trevor Zegras added an early goal in the second to make it 2-0 and ultimately won the tournament MVP with 18 points.
Before those goals, Canada didn’t allow a goal at even-strength. They only allowed four goals in the tournament, all of which came on the penalty kill. The speed, the skill and the dominant offensive pressure that Canada displayed throughout the tournament was basically stymied by the play of Team USA. While Russia and Finland were strong competition, USA was on another level in terms of intensity as they went above and beyond against Canada.
“We grinded them down low pretty much the whole game,” Zegras said in an article by TSN’s David Alter. “I don’t think they had a team do that to them the whole tournament. We wanted to beat’em up down low, move it up high and get to the net and we did a good job of that.”
When they were down, Canada was facing constant pressure from the American forwards and appeared to mismanage the puck a few times. They were aggressive from all sides, although the response to battle back was on display as they were doing everything in their power to try and even the score. The Americans managed to beat Canada at their own game as the two goals proved to be the difference maker. Defensively they were able to keep Canada to the outside and give them nothing to work with.
While Connor McMichael, Peyton Krebs, Quinton Byfield and Philip Tomasino were absolutely critical as they contributed heavily to the offense in Dach’s absence, it was Dylan Cozens who lead the offensive charge from the first game. Cozens was in a battle as the top scorer in the tournament and moved to fourth on Canada’s all-time point list in the process. He was an offensive dynamo every time he was on the ice, using his big size, speed and high-end skill level to power his way in the offensive zone. He was the catalyst for Canada and it was evident.
Devon Levi, who won top goalie in the tournament with a 0.964 save percentage, 0.75 goal against average and three shutouts, didn’t attend their summer camp and came out of nowhere to be Canada’s go-to in net. He was there to keep the deficit small in order to give his team a fighting chance. He faced a barrage of shots but still managed to have a calm presence in net in order to try and turn the tides in his team’s favour.
While they had their chances in the final game, especially in the third period when their intensity picked up, it didn’t amount to anything. No matter how hard they tried, they weren’t able to capitalize on their opportunities as goaltender Spencer Knight was there to shut the door.
USA Continues to Dominate Canada in Gold Medal Games
While Canada’s dominance was the talk of the tournament heading into the gold medal game, Team USA has always come out on top against Canada when it mattered most. The last three times these two teams have met, the Americans won all three games.
In 2004, Canada was up 3-1 on Team USA heading into the third period. The Americans mounted a comeback to tie the game. Patrick O’Sullivan scored the eventual winner after Marc-Andre Fleury tried to clear the puck, but it bounced off of Brayden Coburn and into the net.
In 2010, Canada was down 5-3 with less than three minutes left to play in the third period. Jordan Eberle scored a power-play goal to make it 5-4. With 1:36 left, Eberle’s magic continued as he scored the game-tying goal to force overtime. The teams went back and forth in extra time, though it was John Carlson’s shot on a three-on-one rush that proved to be the difference maker as Team USA won the gold.
In 2017, both teams were tied 4-4 after a very eventful game as it went to a shootout. Goalies Carter Hart and Tyler Parsons were locked in through three rounds. Troy Terry was the shooter for the Americans in the fourth round and made the most of his opportunity going five-hole on Hart. That stood as the game winner and USA won gold for the third time against Canada.
The losing streak continued at the 2021 tournament as the Americans are now 4-0 against Canada in the gold medal game.
Unlike the 1995 and 2005-stacked teams to suit up for Canada at this tournament, this group fell just short of that result. While you can still make that argument, it would’ve been the perfect ending had they won it all.
Gold is always on the players’ minds in a tournament this big. However, this time it was more difficult, given the situation that every team faced. Knowing what they’ve been through as a group, being months away from their families, they wanted to come out on top for them and also their captain.
It’s not the outcome they had hoped for, but they should be extraordinarily proud of what they accomplished. The fact that they played as hard as they did to the very end, even though they didn’t get that perfect ending, they’re winners no matter what.