The rematch between Canada and Russia did not disappoint, as Sunday’s gold-medal game instantly emerged as one of the best games in the history of the tournament.
Canada rallied from 3-1 down in the third period, notching three consecutive goals to topple Russia 4-3 in the gold medal game of the 2020 World Juniors, with Akil Thomas’ phenomenal backhand standing as the winner.
Russia previously defeated Canada 6-0 in the group stage, making the victory all the more sweeter for the triumphant champions.
It was a thriller for the ages, and here’s everything you need to know about Canada’s victory.
A game punctuated by careless penalties
No one will remember the first 50 minutes of this contest but it was defined by sloppy penalties from both sides. Canada took four penalties in the first period, with veterans Jared McIsaac, Joe Veleno and Ty Smith continuing to make asinine mistakes away from the action. Joel Hofer stood on his head after fending off the Russian threat in the frame, and is one of the primary reasons Canada was able to compete for the gold through 20 minutes.
Barrett Hayton (more on him below) took a questionable holding the stick penalty in the second period, which was promptly capitalized upon by Russia’s Nikita Alexandrov to open the scoring. Canada responded in equal measure when Russia’s Dmitri Voronkov took a needless holding penalty, and Dylan Cozens jammed home a rebound to tie the game up.
At the end of the second period, Russia’s Yegor Zamula - one of the best defenceman at this year’s event in my opinion - took a goofy cross checking penalty, hitting Hayton high after the period had ended. Although Canada failed to score on the ensuing power play, it highlighted how nerves ran abundant through the contest.
This was a game between two highly-skilled but extremely anxious teams. The high-end talent was on full display, but it also served as a reminder that is indeed a showcase for the best teenagers in the world before graduating to the pros.
What a time for Akil Thomas to finally show up
Akil Thomas was one of the few Canadian forwards who failed to impress throughout the tournament, having not recorded a goal leading up to the gold-medal game.
What a time to be alive. Thomas etched his way into Canadian history forever, scoring a highlight-reel goal with four minutes remaining in the third period that counted as the winner, as the Los Angeles Kings prospect certainly found more than a measure of redemption.
Thomas corralled a loose puck, sped past a host of Russian defenders, then tucked it past goaltender Amir Miftakhov, who was outstanding until the final 10 minutes of the contest. Thomas nutmegs Russia’s star defenceman Alexander Romanov, Miftakhov missed the poke check and the rest is history.
Thomas left Orlando to join the GTHL’s Toronto Marlboros - the most vaunted power in minor hockey, which has graduated John Tavares and Connor McDavid among others - before being drafted by the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs and was eligible to play for either the United States or Canada. An entire nation is thankful that Thomas didn’t pull a Brett Hull of sorts, and he now goes down in history as a Canadian hero.
Hayton submits legendary performance after battling through injury
Thomas wasn’t the only Canadian player to emerge as a national hero on Sunday.
Under ordinary circumstances, Canada’s captain Barrett Hayton wouldn’t even have played. Hayton suffered a gruesome, Grade 1 shoulder separation during Saturday’s semifinal against Finland after being driven into the boards and he was considered a game-time decision.
In doing so, Hayton authored his own place in history.
Hayton was the catalyst for Canada’s third-period comeback. Connor McMichael accidentally scored on a rabona, when a Calen Addison shot hit the back of his leg as he was crossing over, less than a minute after Maxim Sorkin put Russia up 3-1 with 11 minutes left in the contest.
Enter Hayton. For someone playing with a separated shoulder, Hayton launched his equivalent shot of Kirk Gibson’s epic home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
It wasn’t always pretty. Hayton missed a one-timer, sailing a shot well over the Russian net during the second period and he played through the game in obvious pain. Many called for Nolan Foote to replace him on the power play, with his dangerous shot considered to be a greater asset than a wounded Hayton.
This is everything you could ask of a captain in a gold medal game. It’s been a tumultuous tournament for Hayton, who was forced to apologize after refusing to take off his helmet when Russia won 6-0 on Dec. 28, but rebounded throughout the event and was Canada’s second-best forward behind Alexis Lafrenière.
Hayton now returns to the NHL as a national hero and if he’s healthy, it could inspire a turnaround during his difficult rookie season.
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