Team Canada Preview: Quarterfinals vs Slovakia
Photo credit:Hockey Canada
25 days ago
There were serious questions regarding Team Canada heading into their round-robin finale against Team Sweden. Connor Bedard was shooting the lights out through three games and Canada’s offence had found its groove against some lesser competition, but after losing to Czechia in the tournament opener, everyone wanted to see Canada beat one of the other elite countries in this tournament.
They did exactly that on New Year’s Eve, beating Sweden 5-1.
Connor Bedard was absolutely fantastic with four assists in the victory, as he has been all tournament, but the biggest positive for me was between the pipes where Tomas Milic stopped 22 of the 23 shots that he faced.
Goaltending is always a big concern for Canada at these events and Milic proved that the moment wasn’t too big for him against Sweden. He was solid, even though he didn’t face that many dangerous looks. That’s what they need from him in the medal round.
Outside of that, the powerplay looked solid for Canada and they controlled the play for most of the game. It’s really hard to complain about anything we saw on Saturday night.
One area where they need to be better is staying out of the box. For the second time in this tournament, they had to kill off a five-minute major and had a player get kicked out of a game. It’s come from them wanting to play a hard-nosed style of play but you need to be very careful when doing that at the IIHF level. The line is razor-thin and Canada can’t continue to cross it through the medal round.
Yes, they need to keep playing physically but they need to remember what the standard is at this level. Both of the plays that earned them five-minute majors are probably just minors at the CHL or NHL level, but not here. Staying out of the box is a massive key to victory for them tonight because Slovakia has some dangerous players.
They came third in Group B and pulled off a wildly impressive upset against Team USA early in the tournament. Their roster features high-end picks like Filip Mesar and 2022 second-overall pick Simon Nemec. They also have some big-time 2023 draft prospects as well, such as Dalibor Dvorsky and Alex Ciernik, who have both been solid.
Here’s what our prospect analyst Steven Ellis had to say about this team before the tournament started:
Even though Slovakia won’t be at full strength, they have easily one of the more intriguing lineups in the tournament thanks to an impressive array of NHL Draft prospects. They’ll lean heavily on their youngsters to play big roles, and, like other smaller teams, opportunities are abound.
Canada will be shorthanded for this game as well. Colton Dach suffered an upper-body injury in the game vs Sweden and will be out for the rest of the tournament. Owen Beck has joined the team at the tournament but this injury presents a big opportunity for Oilers first-rounder Reid Schaefer.
He was being used as the 13th forward through the round-robin and wasn’t player a lot, but Head Coach Dennis Williams says that Schaefer will take Dach’s spot on the fourth line and that means he’ll get a regular shift for the first time in this event. He has one assist through four games.
I’m also excited to see if Connor Bedard can keep his magical run going. He has 18 points through four games which is more than double what anyone else in this tournament has, teammate Logan Stankoven has eight through four games.
I’m also looking for Shane Wright, Brandt Clarke, and Dylan Guenther to keep becoming more and more impactful as the tournament goes on. Those three have played NHL games this year and are the most experienced players on the roster. I want to see them rise to the occasion as the games get bigger.
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