We get paid to string words together about sports, but there are simply none left to describe Connor Bedard’s superlative performance at the World Juniors. Bedard rescued Canada, scoring two goals, including the overtime winner against Slovakia, for a 4-3 escape in Monday's quarterfinal.
Bedard continues to dominate the World Juniors in a fashion that we’ve never seen before. The 17-year-old broke the Canadian record for most goals and points at the World Juniors, while setting a single-tournament record for most points by an underaged player in a given competition. He’s simply turning this year’s rendition into a one-man show. And this was all before he scored one of the greatest goals we’ve ever seen in the history of the competition.
We suppose there are other stories to assess, but Bedard’s imprint will be all over this blog, as it has been all over the tournament.
Here are two takeaways from Canada’s victory over Slovakia, and a brief look ahead to the semifinal against the United States.
Connor Bedard single-handedly saved Canada despite Slovakia’s gargantuan effort
Connor Bedard has dominated the World Juniors at a standard deviation that no one has ever approached before. And he scored the best goal in the history of the tournament, to cap off a historic night, to stave Canada off from elimination, his eighth goal of the 2023 World Juniors.
You have to admire Slovakia’s confidence. It wasn’t planning to roll over and die at the prospect of facing the 17-year-old wunderkind Bedard.
“You got to know when he's on the ice," Slovakia assistant coach Scott Moser said to TSN’s Mark Masters ahead of Monday’s quarterfinal. "They are the home team, so I'm sure they'll get a couple match-ups that they're looking for throughout the night, but we also have a lineup that we feel confident in."
After scoring the game’s opening goal, Connor Bedard broke Jaromir Jagr’s record for most points by an underaged player in a single tournament, his 19th point of the 2023 World Juniors. With one head fake and some incredibly quick hands, Bedard left Slovakia’s goalie Adam Gajan looking helpless, getting Canada on the board against the run of play. Slovakia registered the first five shots of the contest and it simply didn’t matter, it was biding its time until Bedard scored.
Bedard didn’t appear particularly interested in the first intermission interview, when asked about breaking the records. He’s extremely locked in and not particularly interested in anything superfluous to his pursuit of another gold medal.
Slovakia tried to rattle Bedard physically and it didn’t work. Shortly after scoring in the first period, Bedard was mauled by Slovakia’s Simon Nemec — the second overall pick in last summer’s draft — as both players earned roughing penalties. The partisan crowd was incensed by the decision to give Bedard a penalty and the “ref, you suck!” chants appeared to reverberate through Halifax’s Scotiabank Centre.
After Zach Ostapchuk scored in transition to give Canada a 3-1 lead, Slovakia cut Canada’s lead to 3-2, when Robert Baco cut to the net intelligently and jammed it home. Bedard turned the puck over on the sequence, and was slow to get up after crashing into the post on Baco’s goal, but he returned shortly without incident — Shane Wright set a flying Bedard in dangerously on his next shift, but he just missed banking it off the post while shooting across his body.
And we’ll speak more about Simon Nemec and Libor Nemec, who almost clawed Slovakia back to a seismic victory, an upset that would surely register long after the medals were handed out. Bedard seized the moment. He dangled through the entire Slovakian defense, before tucking the goal away. This was his moment. But then again, when you’re discussing a one-of-one talent, hockey’s answer to Victor Wembanyama, only with inverse proportions, at least physically, Bedard will have several more. For now, it’s the greatest moment of the greatest performance in the history of World Juniors and one that Canada desperately needed.
You can’t stop Connor Bedard, you can only hope to slow him down. Slovakia tried its best, but it wasn’t enough to stop the tournament’s greatest scoring phenom of the 21st century.
Simon Nemec and Libor Nemec pushed Canada to the limit
The opening night of the 2022 NHL Draft was perhaps the greatest night in Slovakian hockey history as Juraj Slafkovsky was taken first overall by the host Montreal Canadiens, over Shane Wright. This was always in play. But when Simon Nemec went second overall to the New Jersey Devils, it cemented its place in its nation’s history as a historic day.
Slafkovsky wasn’t made available for the tournament, but Nemec has been the best defenseman in the contest, and that was almost enough to lead Slovakia to victory.
Nemec would rally Slovakia back into the game, as his wrister deflected off teammate Libor Nemec’s stick through traffic and in, changing direction wildly.
Canada held a 3-2 lead entering the third period, and it appeared it would be able to close out Slovakia, but Libor Nemec had other ideas. Filip Mesar — another part of the banner 2022 draft, a first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, found Libor Nemec all alone, and he made no mistake for his second goal of the game, which stood as the equalizer. This was no longer a formality where Canada’s superior shot advantage made it seem inevitable that it would advance to the semis.
But eventually, it would collapse. Simon Nemec took a penalty with 34 seconds remaining, affording Canada’s lethal power play one more chance. And true to character, Slovakia survived one more time.
Connor Bedard is inevitable, he is the moment, he owns the 2023 World Juniors and let this just be the start of what will certainly be a highlight reel the length of any feature-length film.
Looking ahead to the United States matchup
Canada and the United States both looked sluggish out of the gate, before rounding into top form as the tournament evolved. A reinvigorated U.S. squad will pose the greatest threat Canada has faced thus far.
United States winger Jimmy Snuggerud — St. Louis’s first-round pick in 2022 — has been arguably its most impactful forward, and he seemingly has a hand in most of what the team has been able to create, especially with the man advantage. Snuggerud is pushing himself into high-danger scoring areas, and he’s destroying teams who are giving him space to operate, going into his back of tricks against lesser opponents.
Logan Cooley, Cutter Gauthier and Snuggerud — all taken in the first round of the 2022 Draft – caught fire in a 11-1 quarterfinal win against Germany, while Rutger McGroarty, Chaz Lucius and Jackson Blake form a strong second scoring line. Cooley registered a hat-trick against Germany, and we have to figure that Canada’s captain Shane Wright may be asked to shadow him.
On the defensive side, Luke Hughes looks like he’s ready to graduate to the NHL next year, where he’ll join his brother Jack on the New Jersey Devils. Hughes is the clear leader of the United States blue line and Canada will have to account for his top-end speed and power play quarterback skills.
We don’t need to add extra sauce to hockey’s most heated rivalry. Canada vs. United States, January 4th, get your popcorn ready.
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