The World Juniors is a wild tournament and things can change incredibly quickly. Canada experienced that to the fullest in their most recent game against the Russians when the perception of this year’s group was drastically altered over the course of three hours.
It started with a horrible opening period that saw the Russians flat out dominate Team Canada, jumping out to a 3-0 lead en route to a 6-0 victory, the worst ever defeat suffered by Canada at this tournament. Russia also outshot the Canadians 40-28. Simply put: it was ugly. There were some weak goals mixed into the six that Canada gave up but the group in front of Nico Daws and Joel Hofer was not ready to play on Saturday.
Then, in the second period, Canada’s star forward Alexis Lafreniere went down with a knee injury and it did not look good. The projected first overall pick was in a world of pain, grabbing his knee. It looked like his tournament was over.
🇨🇦 assistant coach Tourigny on Lafreniere:
"He's walking right now so that's positive. The doc said it's positive news that we've gotten so far … as a coach, you try to know if he will play & they didn't say he will play, but they didn't say he won't"https://t.co/t39R66MwNt
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 29, 2019
It turns out that may not the case and while he won’t suit up against Germany, the team won’t rule out a potential return at some point later in the tournament.
After the 6-0 loss, some controversy occurred as Canada’s Captain Barrett Hayton did not take off his helmet while the Russian anthem played at the arena. It’s not a good look and as the Captain of the team, Hayton really should have acted with more class and professionalism.
At the same time, and we shouldn’t have to be reminded of this every year, he is a 19-year-old who is currently facing a lot of pressure and was coming off what I imagine was an extremely frustrating 60 minutes of hockey. I don’t condone what he did but the people online saying that he should strip himself of the ‘C’ are also being a little bit ridiculous.
The bad storylines didn’t stop there for Canada. On Sunday, it was announced that forward Joe Veleno has been suspended for one game as a result of a head butting altercation during the game against Russia. Honestly, it could have been a penalty during the game, but after watching the replay, I’m not sure if Veleno deserved a one-game suspension for it. It wasn’t exactly a malicious act and there was no injury on the play. In fact, the Russian player didn’t even seem phased by it. But, the IIHF calls it by the book though and Veleno is a victim of that.
Now Canada is down two of their most impactful forwards as they take on a German team that is anything but an easy out.
Like Canada, Germany is 1-1-0 to start the tournament after opening with a loss to the United States and then bouncing back with a victory over the Czech Republic.
Team Germany has found the back of the net seven times with five of those goals coming on the powerplay. Canada is good enough to beat this team at even strength, but things could get interesting if the Canadians can’t stay out of the box. They’ve already had to kill nine penalties through two games.
Offensively, Germany has been led by Carolina Hurricanes prospect Dominik Bokk, who has two goals and three assists. On the back end, watch for Detroit Red Wings first-rounder Moritz Seider, who has four assists and is averaging close to 26 minutes a game.
Between the pipes, I would expect that Hane Hendrick will get the start after 27 of the 30 shots he faced in the team’s victory over the Czechs.
They are also second in the tournament when it comes to shooting percentage (15.56%) which may seem unsustainable over a long period of time, but in a short tournament, I view it as a positive. Even if they’re not getting a lot of chances, they can score goals.
KEYS TO VICTORY
- NEED A SAVE: Head Coach Dale Hunter has a very interesting decision to make when it comes to his starting goaltender. He could go back to Nico Daws, who has allowed eight goals through two starts and was pulled on Saturday against Russia. He could go to backup Joel Hofer, who only allowed two goals in his relief appearance on Saturday. Or, Hunter could go with the wildcard option and start Oilers prospect Olivier Rodrigue to try and spark this group. It is worth noting that while Rodrigue hasn’t played a full game since December 7th but he was getting equal reps with the other two goaltenders in practice the other day. No matter which way Hunter decides to go, the bottom line is that Canada needs its goaltenders to start making some big saves for them.
- STAY DISCIPLINED: This one is pretty simple. Canada has the worst penalty kill in the tournament and the Germans have the best powerplay in the tournament. If Canada stays out of the box and doesn’t give Germany a chance to burn them with the man advantage, then they should win this game.
- SOMEONE STEP UP: With Veleno and Lafreniere out, Canada needs someone to step out of the shadows and take over. The good news is that they have plenty of natural centres currently playing on the wing, so Dale Hunter has some options when it comes to his lineup. I’d be interested to see how Dylan Cozens could handle being moved to centre. I’m also looking for one of Raphael Lavoie or Connor McMichael to step up and take on more of a scoring role. It will be interesting to see who shines in this one.
After this one, Canada will take on the host nation on New Year’s Eve with a matchup against the Czech Republic.