Another day, another win for Team Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, however, this time around, it didn’t come as easy as their 14-0 win over Switzerland on Sunday. Yes, they beat Slovakia 9-1, but for the first half of the game, their opponents seemed to find the Canadian’s weakness.
Slovakia clearly came into this contest with a game plan to try and knock Canada off their game by being aggressive and getting under their opponent’s skin and it worked to an extent. Canada wasn’t able to get much of a rhythm in the opening 10 minutes and conceded two penalties. With that said, the 22-time gold medalists found a way to break the deadlock soon after. Brayden Yeager fired on the powerplay, beating the Slovakian goaltender short side for his second of the tournament. Late in the period, Zach Benson doubled the Canadian’s lead with an elite one-timer off-a-faceoff set play.
Dylan MacKinnon gave some of that aggression right back to the Slovakians but mistimed his hit as hit shoulder connected with the head of the Slovakian defender. He was fortunate not to receive more than a two-minute minor on the ice.
Canada took over the game in the second period and a big reason why was their discipline. In the first, they allowed Slovakia to dictate the narrative of the game with their aggression and it drew Canada to send them to the box. In the second, Canada settled down and played their game then simply out-skilled them. The hosts scored four goals in the second from Yager, Tanner Howe, Riley Heidt, and Cameron Allen making four 6-0 after 40 minutes.
The scoring continued in the second with Canada adding three more goals. The spirit of the Slovakians had been sucked out of them at this point and Canada started to skate circles around them. However, goaltender Samuel Urban never stopped battling for his team and was unfortunate to allow nine goals in spite of his best efforts. Without him, this game could have hit the teens again. Heidt added his second of the game and was followed by Gauthier and Tanner Moldendyk. The scoring wasn’t finished though as Slovakia got themselves on the board with a fantastic goal. Peter Cisar dragged the puck around the sliding Canadian defenceman and went top shelf on Carson Bjarnason, ending the shutout bid.
Canada struggled to start, but after a conversation with the coaches in the first intermission, they calmed down in the second and ran away with the game. The further they advance the more disciplined they’ll need to be because now their weakness has been revealed. If you can get under the Canadian’s skin there’s a chance to win, and if you’re the USA, Sweden, or another contender you’re going to test that theory, again.
- Brayden Yager was the best player on the ice for Canada. He played like a true power forward attacking the net, playing the body, and using his size to dominate the middle of the ice. Yagar displayed great vision and skill too for a big man. He was thinking about the game so quickly that Slovakia couldn’t handle him.
- Yager was on the top line with Zach Benson and Ethan Gauthier. The three of them work so well together and can control the game. They complement each other excellently and it’s impressive to watch considering they’ve only been together a couple of weeks.
- Against Switzerland on Sunday, Caden Price did a great job of breaking up plays with his stick. He did that again last night but was more effective passing the puck too. Price had two assists in last night’s game with his first on Benson’s goal and then on Yager’s second, which was a great feed to him on the backdoor.
- Riley Heidt has quietly scored three goals in the tournament and is second on the team, behind Gauchier with four. His goal against Switzerland has a case to be the goal of the tournament.
- You’ve always got to feel bad for a goaltender that loses a shutout late in the game. Carson Bjarnason had an excellent game for Canada stopping 19 of 20 shots, with a few of them grade chances for the Slovakians. It took a great shot from Peter Cisar to beat him.
- It’s been mentioned but one more time won’t hurt anybody, Canada needs to stay out of the box. In the first period, they went to the penalty box five times and had no rhythm in their game. In the final 40 minutes, Canada got called three times, once in the second, which allowed them to play more five-on-five and dominate the game.
Post Game Quotes
*quotes from the Hockey Canada Website
“Coming off the game vs the Swiss, it’s a bit scary for a coach as you aren’t sure what to expect from, your guys, but we came out tonight with the right mindset. Our puck pressure was non-stop. We were stopping and starting, forcing turnovers and we really used all our guys. Everyone was working hard and deserved the win,” said Head coach Stéphane Julien
“I thought Slovakia had some push back early and that was good for us. I’m proud of the guys, we stood our ground and we had to work. This was a good test; we need to make sure we are sharp heading into the game vs Sweden,” said Carson Bjarnason
“I thought as a group, we played well. Credit to my linemates, they were putting pucks in good places and if I get the chance I’m going to shoot. Luckily tonight, they dropped for me,” said Brayden Yager.
Canada closes their group stage games with a matchup against Team Sweden tonight. Sweden is also undefeated with wins over Switzerland and Slovakia, who they outscored 13 to 4. The Canadians will need to be wary of Otto Stenberg who leads the tournament with seven points.
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