Mon Dec 26 07:30pm EST
EDMONTON — Six ounces of vulcanized irony has ended Devante Smith-Pelly's world junior championship.
Team Canada pulled away from Finland for an 8-1 win in the Group B opener, but the loss of the hell-on-wheels wing was lost on much of the 16,296 who whooped it up Western Canada-style as the score got out of hand. By that point, Smith-Pelly was gone with an injured left foot that cost Canada its most rugged forward. TSN reported that X-rays showed a fracture, ending his tournament after less than 30 minutes of hockey. He'll be out 4-6 weeks.
"Heartbreaking way to end my tournament, but I know the guys will do the country proud regardless. Thank you everyone for your kind words," said Smith-Pelly on his Twitter page.
The Anaheim Ducks forward, one of only two NHL players on the Canadian team, cannot be replaced on the 22-man roster.
The only situation in which a team could add another player at this point in the tournament would be in the case of a goaltender injury. (The Canadian Press)
The first irony is the Ducks loaned out Smith-Pelly so the 19-year-old could gain confidence playing against peers instead of NHLers, not to get hurt. The second is that it came on a day when a few Canadian defenders laid it on the line during the first 30-ish minutes. London Knights defenceman Scott Harrington, who's on the second pair with highly touted Ryan Murray, appeared to save a goal in the second period, diving across after a ricochet off the end boards gave Finland's Mikael Granlund a wide-open chance. Centre Freddie Hamilton, who helped make Minnesota Wild first-rounderGranlund a non-factor for the Finns, also had a big block. That's exactly what Canada wanted to see.
"Being a goalie back there, I had a question when we doing team building, 'what brings energy to your game?' " goalie Mark Visentin, who stopped 24-of-25 shots, said before it was announced that Smith was definitely done for the tourney. "And my answer was 'block shots.' It really feeds me and gets me pumped."
"Freddie had a big block. Harry [Harrington] had a big block," added Visentin, whose toughest stop was a sliding save in the second period while it was still close. "I don't even like to use names because everyone was doing it. I can't mention them all."
Smith-Pelly's status is bound to be a big off-day question since Canada has a practice day prior to facing the Czech Republic on Wednesday. It could be the second year in a row a key forward goes down early in the tournament. Jaden Schwartz broke his ankle in the second game last winter in Buffalo and his creativity was missed dearly.
A third irony is this happened on a day Canada's best man on the ice might have been Jonathan Huberdeau — who nearly missed the tournament after breaking his foot blocking a shot on Nov. 7. The left wing had five points.
The tournament will always test a team's depth. Finland might also be down a man, since coach Coach Raimo Helminen said defenceman Olli Määttä suffered a concussion. Määttä, rated as a potential first-round pick in next year's NHL draft, is one of Finland's best puck-moving defencemen.
Other notes on the afternoon:
Throwing the Hammer at Granlund — Meanwhile, Canada was extra-stout defensively. Hamilton helped stymie Granlund, who had zero points.
"We just thought we wanted to put together a line that could do a good job on Granlund and play on the defensive side of him," Hay said. "A lot of that was Freddie winning faceoffs. The other day when we played Finland, Granlund was a real dominating player in the faceoff circle. We really challenged our [bottom six] centremen, Freddie and Boone Jenner, to compete hard against him and go after the puck."
Ultimately, Canada assauged a lot of doubts with the lopsided win. It came at a price, though.
Visentin rarely tested — The much-scrutinized goalie looked composed while allowing only one goal, but it's not like he was tested much.
"I don't like to play two bad games in a row," he said. "I thought I played well but the team played better tonight."
Hay declined to name a starter for Wednesday vs. the Czech Republic. He denied hedging over whether to start his returning goalie, who gave up four goals on 17 shots in the pre-competition finale vs. Sweden last Friday, or turning to backup Scott Wedgewood.
"It was always going to be Mark in my mind," Hay said. "He probably didn't play as well as everyone had hoped for against Sweden and Scott [Wedgewood] played really well against Sweden [stopping 10-of-10 shots in relief on Friday. That was the question of the day. In my mind, I felt good about Mark going in. The environment like this, he'd been exposed to this last year in Buffalo. When you have a veteran, you have to give him a chance.
Visentin, meantime, was supportive of his brother in the goalie fraternity, Finland's Christopher Gibson. Helminen stuck with the Los Angeles Kings second-rounder, who plays for the Quebec league's Chicoutimi Saguenéens, stayed in for all eight goals. Canada's sixth goal typified Gibson's day. He stopped Huberdeau in close. However, the rebound was left unattended and Mark Stone pounced on it for his hat-trick goal.
"I thought he played well," Visentin said. "He didn't give up on his team. That's a big part of being a goalie."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).