With the minutes ticking off the clock, red sweaters were everywhere in the Slovakian zone as Canada desperately searched for a goal. It wasn’t to be, in the dying seconds a Slovak defender desperately lifted the puck out of the zone just as the final buzzer sounded. To an unaware viewer it would seem that the Canadians were searching for a crucial goal, either to tie or win the game. In reality, they were ahead 8-0.
This was the truly impressive part of Canada’s 8-0 tournament opening win against Slovakia, one that shouldn’t be overanalysed, but also would be ridiculous to overlook as well. Canada has started tournament with dominant victories in the past, but they are mostly dismissed as running up the score against lesser opposition. This time it was the way that they achieved the result that was most impressive: dominating from start to finish without letting their collective feet off of the gas.
Collective feet is the important part of that statement, as it truly was a team effort. Seven different players scored goals: Robby Fabbri (2), Nick Paul, Jake Virtanen, Brayden Point, Anthony Duclair, Max Domi and Nic Petan. The majority of the goals came off passing plays that gave the air of a team who have been together far longer.
If there was any one criticism of the Canadian team it was the highly touted second line of Nick Ritchie, Curtis Lazar and Connor McDavid that failed to score. The big emphasis will be put on McDavid, as he has been touted as the superstar of this team. It is almost good, however, that Canada was able to win despite McDavid, because this team has been too reliant on its stars of late. Last year the team went as Jonathan Drouin, and the year before the team’s fate seemed to rest in the hands of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
It’s not like McDavid had a particularly bad game, either. He was creative throughout and while he didn’t quite look up to his spectacular self he was still creating chances all game long. He was the best player on his line by a longshot. He is also still coming off injury, lest we forget, and appeared to suffer another one blocking a shot against Slovakia.
Now the asterisk that most will throw on the end of anything positive they say about the Canadian team. For one, while this was a statement game no Canadian team can ever making a lasting statement unless it comes in an elimination game. Such is the nature of hockey in this country. Secondly, the skill of the Slovakian team will come into question. This is mostly because nobody seems ready to really consider the opposite: that Canada is just this good.
The Canadian team is an underdog in this tournament not based on the roster, which as always is debatably, if not definitely, the best in the tournament. They are underdogs because the Canadian media and public seems to have lost confidence in the program. Nothing the team could do today would regain that in any sort of substantial way, the same goes for tomorrow against Germany. Even later games against Finland, and even quite possibly the United States, will not regain this confidence.
Gold, and only gold, will bring back that confidence. This is the mission that Canada is burdened with at this tournament, with the added pressure that the quota hasn’t been met for some time. So far, the team doesn’t seem afraid of that whatsoever. They have come out of the gates in this tournament like a team with something to prove, even if they know they can’t prove anything until the New Year.
Canada has never lost a World Junior tournament in which it has shutout its opposition in the first game. Everyone knows stats like this are made to be broken, but there are early signs that this might not be the year this particular record falls.
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