So far, it’s been almost too easy for the Canadian junior team.
As the group prepares to take on Finland on Monday in a matchup that will determine the team atop Group A of the World Junior Hockey Championship, perhaps the host team’s biggest rival is vanity.
So far it’s been child’s play for Canadians. They defeated, without complex, Latvia, Slovakia and Czechia by a cumulative score of 21-4. And in two of the three games, Canada came up against a particularly in-form goalie — Czech Tomas Suchanek and Latvian Patriks Berzins.
In those three wins, the Maple Leaf led 145-70 in shots on goal.
“Obviously we got a lot of shots in both games,” defender Olen Zellweger remarked of the wins over Slovakia and Czechia.
“It’s very good for us. I dare to believe that if you had said that I would have been surprised by the difference between our victories. (…) But our team is good and that’s our goal — to shoot the puck at the net, to be the first on it and to play offensive hockey.
The Finns won all three of their preliminary stage matches, but needed the penalty shootout to win against the Czechs. They thrashed Slovakia 9-3 on Sunday afternoon just as Canada began training. The Canadians only saw a few segments of the Finnish triumph.
However, the Canadians know they need to perfect certain phases of play. The Finns scored five power play goals against the Slovaks. New York Islanders prospect Aatu Raty has eight points in three games while Nashville Predators pick Joakim Kemell has seven.
“You can be tough and silly, but we’re doing a lot of good things,” said Canadian team captain Mason McTavish. “We are focused on fixing a few mistakes.”
McTavish, who has 10 points in three games, said one of the facets Canada has paid particular attention to is puck management on the power play. Players want to move the puck faster and make “simple” plays.
If there was one miserable moment for the Canadians in their win over the Czechs, it was that five-minute power play in the first period that generated almost no scoring chances and fell victim to a aim.
Canadian forward Kent Johnson, who turned heads with a “Michigan-style” goal by carrying the puck through the air on his stick blade against the Czechs, said he’s not worried Canada will sit on his laurels.
“I think quite often when you win like that, you can be a victim of complacency. But it’s a fight that many of us have faced over and over again. I’m not too stressed with it,” he admitted.
The preliminary phase will conclude on Monday. The quarter-finals will be played on Wednesday.