It’s been a solemn day in Edmonton after the passing of Oilers superfan Ben Stelter, but down at Rogers Place Team Canada’s 2022 World Juniors got underway.
Less than a minute into the game, Stelter was honoured by the ink rink DJ who played La Bamba, and it didn’t take long for the Canadians to get in the game. 7:31 into the first frame, it was Connor Bedard who waltzed to the top of the faceoff circles in the high slot firing a puck home.
Despite the early goal, one thing was clear: there was some early rust for the Canadian team. Sure, they led the way on the score sheet against an under-matched Latvian team, but it was a lot of quantity over quality. While Canada pushed, Latvia responded by blocking some big shots getting into lanes.
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And late in the first after the Bedard goal, it was Rainers Darzins who made a nifty move at the offensive blue line driving to the middle of the ice before he ripped a shot past Canadian goalie Sebastian Cossa. It was just the fourth shot of the night that Cossa had seen.
Credit where it’s due because the Latvian’s did one heckuva job early on in this game and it carried into the second period. Canada got their first powerplay of the game 6:55 into the second, but the only shot on goal that was taken was actually by Latvia.
They got sloppy, however, giving Canada two more powerplays in the following six minutes. It was a pair of defencemen — Lukas Cormier and Olen Zellweger — who each had long wrist shots find the back of the net.
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And with just under three minutes to go in the first, forward Ridly Greig drove hard to the Latvia net fending off defenders where he scored a beautiful goal flicking the puck with one hand and into the back of the net.
Despite getting a 4-1 lead into the third frame, Latvia just wouldn’t go away. Greig took a minor for tripping 4:52 into the period and just four seconds later, Latvian defenceman Bogdans Hodass blasted home a point shot cutting Canada’s lead to two.
The Canadian kids continued to put themselves in penalty trouble. Kent Johnson took a delay of game penalty for passing the puck with his glove and not long after, Greig took his second penalty of the game — this time for hooking.
The lead was extended with under six minutes to go in the third by William Dufour, but this Canadian team is looking shakey early on in the summer tournament.
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Things are far from ideal, for sure. The tournament is being played in the middle of summer for the first time ever and none of these kids have played much hockey as of late. But they’re not the only ones. None of the 10 teams have been playing recently, so that excuse gets thrown out the window.
It’s game one, after all, and Latvia did have some legs opening their tournament on Tuesday night. Performances like this from Canada, however, won’t fly against a team like Finland in their group, or other big guns like the United States or Sweden in Group B.
Team Canada plays again Thursday afternoon with another 4 p.m. puckdrop, that one against Slovakia.

The Clips

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Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]

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