It’s tough when Canada loses a game at the World Juniors, to put it lightly. Someone always ends up being the villain, and heads roll as a nation collectively screams in anguish.
Saturday morning was no different.
Team Canada was dealt a huge loss by the Czech Republic, dropping a 5-4 shootout decision in a back-and-forth game that saw the score rise about as much as the blood pressure of the average Canada supporter.
Canada was down early once again, giving up the opening goal just 7:10 into the game. The trailing trend won’t seem to let up, as Canada has allowed the first goal of the game in all 5 tournament games, with the pre-tournament included. Fortunately, what followed the Czech’s first goal was a retooled effort, and Canada played their best 20 minutes of the tournament in that first period. Scoring chances were marked 9-2 for the Canadians after the first period of play, showing that defense needs to be a point of focus going forward. Unfortunately, Team Canada’s defense won’t receive the boost of Griffin Reinhart until New Years Eve, when they take on the United States.
Jonathan Drouin was expected to be the offensive leader for Canada in this tournament, and he did all that he could in this match-up, scoring a goal and adding an assist, as well as scoring in the shootout. What followed Drouin was a great bout of offense: 4 goals should be enough to win any hockey game in this tournament. Again, allowing four goals puts the teams’ defense in a negative spotlight.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding Connor McDavid in the game, after he was benched for over a period following two hooking penalties. Hockey analysts described the play of McDavid as “forgettable” and even to such extremes as “unacceptable”. Let’s face it: the kid is 16 years old, the same age as myself. As I sit on my couch watching the tournament and blogging about it, he is living every child’s dream, and putting on the red & white sweater with his country’s pride on the line. He will not live up to the 16-year old Sidney Crosby that we once saw in this tournament, so perhaps the bar was set too high for the kid, even though he recorded an assist in the game.
It was widely known that Brent Sutter was undefeated as coach of the National Junior Team coming into the 2014 tournament, after winning two straight titles in 2005 and 2006. However, all good things must come to an end, and the Red Deer Rebels coach is now 13-0-1 behind the bench. The loss may have been avoided if he didn’t select McDavid to go in the third round of the shootout, the round that Canada ended up losing in. McDavid definitely had “cold mitts” after sitting so long, and after some brief stick handling, coughed the puck up, giving Dominik Simon the chance to win the game. Sam Reinhart, one of Canada’s top snipers, was left on the bench, and certainly could have stood a better chance of scoring than the 16-year old.
One place where Sutter won’t make a coaching mistake on Monday is in the crease. Jake Paterson’s time as Team Canada’s #1 goalie is effectively over, after allowing four goals on 28 shots in regulation. Paterson now has the distinguished honor of being yet another resented net-minder by the general population, especially after he was a part of the trio (including Malcom Subban and Jordan Binnington) that was less-than-stellar in last year’s tournament. Zach Fucale will be the man in the paint on Monday, a decision many think should have been made from the start. Fucale, a first-round draft pick in 2013, guided his Halifax Mooseheads to the Memorial Cup this spring, and has been great all season long as well.
No matter how you sway it, Canada’s team is under a lot of pressure, as always. With one of the weaker rosters in recent memory, Canada might not immediately be in the gold medal conversation, but they are always a top-four team, and losing to Czech team that is not in that upper echelon shouldn’t have happened. However, Sutter summed the performance up well, when asked about his tarnished record:
“Every time you put on the Team Canada sweater, you are expected to win every game. Obviously that doesn’t always happen.”
Canada is back in action on Monday when they take on Slovakia, and then challenge the United States one day later.
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