There was concern heading to the World Junior Championship that Team Canada’s roster composition was too similar to the one from 2014.
Two years ago, Hockey Canada sent 10 players that were not in their final year of world junior eligibility to the tournament in Malmo, Sweden. A fourth-place result ensued.
This time there are nine skaters young enough to come back when the event returns to Toronto and Montreal. And Canada, which needed a shootout to dispatch Switzerland 3-2 on Tuesday, has largely struggled to get positive results.
Youth hasn’t necessarily been the Canadians’ biggest problem. Look no further than 18-year-old Dylan Strome likely being the team’s best player, while Jake Virtanen, 19, a returnee with NHL experience this season, has yet to find the scoresheet despite nine shots on goal.
Canada has one more preliminary-round game, Thursday against Sweden. But the defeat to the Americans and the lost point because of the shootout win has a likely third-place group finish looming and a potential quarter-final date against the tough hosts, Finland.
The Canadians are digging a hole, just like they did in 2014. The circumstances are fairly similar.
Two years ago, coach Brent Sutter turned to Jake Paterson to open the tournament. Paterson allowed seven goals in two games, including a shootout loss to the Czech Republic – Sutter’s first defeat in three events behind the bench. Zach Fucale was then called on for the rest of the action.
Because of an OHL suspension to Mackenzie Blackwood, coach Dave Lowry needed Mason McDonald to start Canada’s first two games this year. Blackwood was expected to be the team’s No. 1 goalie.
In Malmo, the Canadians had to play without defencemen Griffin Reinhart because of a three-game suspension he was issued at the end of 2013 tourney. Canada opted to name Reinhart to the team and play with six blue-liners until the New Year’s Eve matchup against the United States. Chris Bigras mostly sat on the bench upon Reinhart’s return.
Blackwood’s slashing punishment with the Barrie Colts meant Canada had to start McDonald for the first two games and ask Samuel Montembeault to serve as the backup.
Jonathan Drouin was on the receiving end of a vicious hit from Adam Erne – ironically a fellow Tampa Bay Lightning prospect – in a QMJHL game heading into selection camp. He was kept off the ice in Toronto, but was able to play in the tournament. Drouin was Canada’s second-leading scorer with nine points in seven games, but certainly had some lapses in judgment.
Brayden Point hadn’t played a WHL game since Nov. 17 because of a shoulder injury and skated sparingly at camp. He re-aggravated the ailment in Canada’s first pre-tournament game. Point had to be sheltered against the United States. The captain is gutting it out, and netted the shootout winner against Switzerland. It’s fair to say he’s capable of more based on his track record.
Mathew Dumba, who was expected to be one of Canada’s best defencemen in Sweden, was sick with the flu during the tournament. The illness had a negative impact on his performance as the 19-year-old managed just one assist to go along with 12 penalty minutes.
Although he’s the youngest player on this year’s team, Julien Gauthier, 18, racked up 29 goals in his first 30 QMJHL games and proved his skills at camp. But his effectiveness at the tournament has been limited because of an illness. Gauthier has one assist in three games.
Canada had a bad habit of letting opponents score first two years ago. They allowed the first goal against in each preliminary-round game, with Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia all scoring in the first 10 minutes.
This time, the Canadians have also let inferior opponents like Denmark and Switzerland open the scoring. It may have cost them a point and a seed or two in the standings.
For all the offence Drouin produced in Sweden, he also took some poor penalties. Drouin was assessed a checking-to-the-head infraction in the first 10 seconds of a game against Slovakia, which came with a 10-minute misconduct and a benching from his coach. He did the same thing in the semifinal against Finland, which crippled the Canadians’ chance of a comeback. They lost 5-1.
It seems like every second or third shift TSN commentators Gord Miller and Ray Ferraro are noting that a Canadian player has taken a shift well over a minute in length. They’re not wrong. That needs to change for the team to have any chance to compete for a medal.
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