Canada’s record of 17 consecutive trips to the WJHC semi-finals ended in near-tears today.
Their 6-5 defeat to host team Finland sealed their fate despite a tremendous showing by Maple Leafs top prospect Mitch Marner, among others.
WJHC: Canada’s Reign Ends
Nine minor penalties versus the best powerplay in the tournament, many of the retaliatory variety, neutralized Canada’s opportunity to muster any sustainable momentum, and prove doubters wrong. Three of its nine minor penalties nullified Canadian powerplay chances, and in a game like this where special teams mean everything, composure makes all the difference.
The most puzzling aspects of this game were Jake Virtanen’s pronounced lack of composure as well as coach Dave Lowry’s insistence on giving him chance after chance, which he squandered with selfish, thoughtless play.
Canada came out strong in the first and put themselves up by two, the result of hard work and net-drive as well as a willingness to forecheck. They were absolutely dominant in the first, owning the neutral zone and pushing the tempo with Finland floundering to defend.
In fact, they chased the Finnish keeper Veini Vehvilainen after the third goal on just ten shots; a decision which proved to be the turning point for Finland.
The lead was cut in half with just seconds to go in the first frame and the team that returned looked undisciplined and unfocused in their own end.
Period three was one for the ages with Canada answering back twice on the powerplay thanks to Marner’s heroics before Finnish power-winger and future lottery pick candidate Patrik Laine won it for the Fins with a two-man advantage.
Defender Joe Hicketts found himself heading to the penalty box late in the third after clearing the end boards glass on a Finnish powerplay; the consequence of Jake Virtanen’s inexcusable double-minor, leaving Canada’s penalty kill vulnerable to the best offensive unit in the tournament.
Laine had two goals and an assist for Finland, who are featured 1,2,and 3 in tournament scoring. Line mates Jesse Puljujarvi and Sebastian Aho complete the trifecta; all of whom boast an impressive five goals a piece.
Canada pressed the issue in the final minute with a shell-shocked Mackenzie Blackwood on the bench to spring the 6th attacker, but Canada ran out of time.
The narrative already is that we should be proud, and remember that these are ‘just kids’. To that, I say Jake Virtanen is an NHL player on loan from the Vancouver Canucks. Should coach Willie Desjardins think of Canada’s biggest liability throughout the tournament as a “kid”? I think not. If anyone, he should have known better and led by example, playing whistle-to-whistle and letting his play speak for him. How he didn’t find himself anchored securely to a plank of Scandanavian pine for the remainder of the game is a mystery, but with a minute and a half to go, Virtanen, the least deserving of all Canadian forwards was out there once again.
Travis Konecny, Hicketts, Marner, Dylan Strome, Julien Gauthier, Thomas Chabot, Lawson Crouse and Brayden Point among others have much to be proud of. These young men arrived dialed in and gave Finland a hell of a scare, but ultimately, Team Canada wrote its own ending with its lack of discipline and structure on the ice, and, in this hockey fan’s opinion, behind the bench. Coach Lowry reckons that they deserved a better fate after their best outing of the tournament. That’s tough to back up when they handicapped their own chances so very often, throughout the five games they competed in.