As the NHL season takes a temporary pause due to rising concerns over the Omicron variant of COVID-19, there hasn’t been much hockey to watch of late. For any hockey-starved fans, there was still the World Junior Hockey Championship in Alberta. It began for Team Canada in Edmonton with a tune up game against the Russians.
Our perennial favorites didn’t disappoint. They rode a strong first period to a huge lead that they never lost.
It all began with an early power-play for Canada. This unit seems to be quite unstoppable if this game is any indication. Mason McTavish was able to get in front thanks to some excellent puck movement. He beat Yaroslav Askarov for the opening goal.
Next, Ridley Greig took over Askarov’s place and scored a rebound to make it two. Although they didn’t signal a goal at first, it appeared that the officials missed the puck. However, they later confirmed what Greig had already known.
And they just kept rolling. McTavish had another opportunity to score on Askarov when he turned in neutral, but he chose to pass to Kent Johnson instead. Johnson unleashed a spectacular shot to make it 3-0 Canada.
Canada’s power play was meant to prove that they are a force to reckon with. The man advantage allowed Jake Neighbours to find Lukas Cormier. He had a wide net to make it 4-1.
Things got a little off track in the second period as Canada was penalized heavily. Semyon Demidov tried to pass into the middle on an early Russian power play. It was deflected off of a skate by Dylan Garand, making it 4-1. This gave life to his team.
Then it was Matvei Michkov — a potential top pick in the 2023 draft — then made his presence felt as well. He fired another penalty from Canada and then buried it to bring back the Russians within two.
Canada looked impressive even though they didn’t take many penalties. McTavish received a pass from the right side, and immediately undressed Askarov. He then slipped the puck over the line to make it 5-2 Canada.
Russia, for their part, were determined to make this a game. Alexander Pashin would bring his team within two with a difficult angle goal late into the period. Canada was formidable, but the Russians proved that they were strong enough to hang.
In the third period, it was the 16-year-old’s turn to get in on the action for Canada. Cole Perfetti made a great pass to Connor Bedard, who dangled Askarov to score the goal. It was 6-3.
Michkov simply could not tolerate a 6-3 loss, however, as he would get one more back with a screaming one timer with less than a minute on the clock.
But it was too little, too late, as it ended in a solid 6-4 win to kick start Canada’s quest for a gold medal. They’ll now be looking to complete their roster before they begin their tournament against Czechia on Boxing Day.
Shane Wright and Connor Bedard might be the biggest names among Canada’s forwards, but the best of the night was probably Mason McTavish. His second goal was a fantastic display of his puck skills. You can’t praise enough his pass that set up Johnson’s first goal. He could be an asset to the Canadians during this tournament.
Bedard was the extra forward coming into the game, but we saw some of the skills that make him a potential first-overall pick in 2023. Although he didn’t play much at even strength, I think he will be back for more when Canada plays again.
Another major asset will clearly be their power play. As someone who normally spends their time cheering for the Montreal Canadiens, it was striking to see the puck movement from that unit. These Canadians are likely to be a tough team to play against.
As for the Habs prospect watch, Kaiden Guhle looked very solid if unspectacular. His quick release from the blue line when shooting was what really stands out. It is deceptive and will be a great asset to him in this tournament. Canada has a majority of left-handed defensemen. I wonder if Canada will try him on the right side in this tournament to get some one-timers.