IIHF 2014 World Junior Championship – Canada vs. Slovakia – December 30, 2013

This began as a day of upsets with Germany beating the Czech Republic 3-0 and Finland beating Russia.  Canada wanted to put a halt to that trend, but it was not going to be easy.  While the Slovaks are not as talented as Canada from top to bottom of their roster they do have a doozey of a line.  The number one line of Slovakia is made up of Habs’4th round draft choice Martin Reway-David Griger-Milan Kolena.  These three guys are offensively talented and have great chemistry; they have been involved in almost all of Slovakia’s goals so far in the tournament.  And if you give them an opportunity on the power play they are deadly.

Canada would have to be disciplined and get solid goaltending from another Habs’ draft choice, Zachary Fucale.  Jake Paterson was selected by coach Brent Sutter as his number one goalie, but after a poor showing in Canada’s 5-4 loss versus the Czech Republic in a shoot-out Sutter turned to Fucale.  Fucale was a Memorial Cup winner last spring with the Halifax Mooseheads.  The Slovaks were also going with their back-up goaltender. Samuel Baros was in the Slovak net.  Both back-ups gave their teams solid performances.  Only one came out, however, as the victor.

After the unexpected defeat against the Czechs this became a very important game for Canada.  Canada’s second youngest team ever at the tournament needed to beat the Slovaks and then beat the United States to end up in 1st place in Group A.

The start for Canada was not what they hoped for, but it is one fans of the team have become used to.  In each of the three round robin games as well as the two pre-tournament games they played Canada has surrendered the first goal of the game.  As a result in every game they have had to come from behind. Not only did they give up the first goal, but gave it up very early.

A mere 10 seconds into the game Canada lost their most skilled forward for 12 minutes.  Jonathan Drouin was assessed a minor for a hit to the head of Reway and that penalty automatically comes with a 10 minute misconduct. Even though they were shorthanded, Canada had the first scoring chance of the game.  Just past the minute mark Team Canada captain Scott Laughton, a draft choice of the Philadelphia Flyers, had a good chance shorthanded, but he was bested by a good stop by Baros.  As oftentimes happens when a team does not score on a good chance at one end the other team goes the other way and manages one of their own.  At 1:40 Griger scored a power play goal.  Jakub Predajniansky’s point shot misses the net though due to the lively boards it bounced in front of the net quickly on the other side catching Fucale out of position and Griger spun around and scored.  Fucale did not even really have a chance to get warmed up or get a few saves in to build up his confidence and drive away the nerves.

Thankfully Fucale was able to gather his legs beneath him and made a few good saves as the period wore on.  He kept the lead to 1-0 despite the fact that it could easily be more.  Slovakia was dominating Canada.  Canada caught a break when Michal Valjent took a high sticking minor at 16:38.  After he had finished serving his 12 minutes of penalties Sutter kept Drouin glued to the bench for a few minutes to make it obvious what he thought of the young man’s indiscipline.  It was only during this power play that he put Drouin on the ice.  Though he did not get a point on the Curtis Lazar power play goal he definitely showed he was ready to play.

The entertaining 1st period ended 1-1.  As the period wore on Canada spent more and more time in the Slovak end.  More lack of discipline led to Laughton and Nic Petan in the box and Slovakia with a 5-on-3 power play.  You cannot give that kind of space to Griger-Reway-Kolena.  Reway rang in a shot off the crossbar above Furcale’s shoulder off a nice three way passing play between himself and his other two linemates.

Canada did not learn their lesson as later in the period Matt Dumba (on a bit of a phantom call) and Derek Pouliot took penalties just over a minute from each other.  Resulting in another 5-on-3 advantage for the Slovaks. Griger made them pay off another tic-tac-toe passing play at the 12:13 mark of the 2nd.  This was eerily similar to the game that Canada played against Slovakia last year in the tournament.  The Slovaks also had a 3-1 lead on Canada in the 2nd period before they came back to win 6-3.  This game became almost like déjà vu.

After Slovakia’s 3rd goal it was like Drouin decided it was time for him to take over the game.  He showed his talent and desire leading Canada to victory.  Holding onto to the puck until he found an opening in the Slovak end, Drouin played the puck to defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who unleased a shot.  Baros made the save then Anthony Mantha used his 6’5” frame to gain position in front of the net and buried the rebound.  Canada was back in the game.

They kept it to very late but Canada continued to score.  At 14:02 Drouin tied the game at 3-3 then Petan scored the winning goal at 17:14 on the power play and the insurance goal into an empty net at 18:40.  Petan showed plenty of patience on the winning goal coming out from behind the net and after finding no one to pass to scored on a precise shot to the far side of the net.  They won, but it was a little too close for my comfort.  Obviously the Canadian team’s strategy was to make each game exciting.  On the positive side this type of game can be character building.

Fucale won the confidence of his teammates and coach with his performance.  He made some timely saves and his rebound control was good.  Showing poise he was solid overall.  In all fairness he had no chance on the 3 goals scored against him.  After the game Sutter said that Fucale would be starting the game against the U.S.

Canada’s next game is Tuesday against the United States.  Despite their uneven play Canada can finish no worse than 2nd in Group A.  They are a mess technically and shouldn’t be struggling this mightily against teams like the Czechs and Slovaks.  It was an emotional win, but still worrisome to be facing the U.S. as they have been cutting through the opposition.

Game Stats:

-On-Ice Officials:  Referees – Rene Hradil (Czech Republic) and Evgeniy Romasko (Russia)

Linesmen – Andreas Kowert (Germany) and Eduard Metalnikov (Russia)

-Goals:  1st Period:

1:40:  Slovakia – (pp)  David Griger assisted by Martin Preway and Jakub Predajniansky

18:12:  Canada – (pp)  Curtis Lazar assisted by Anthony Mantha and Nic Petan

2nd Period:

7:07:  Slovakia – (pp)  Martin Reway assisted by David Griger and Milan Kolena

12:33:  Slovakia – (pp)  David Griger assisted by Martin Reway and Milan Kolena

17:00:  Canada – Anthony Mantha assisted by Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Drouin

3rd Period:

14:02:  Canada – Jonathan Drouin assisted by Anthony Mantha

17:14:  Canada – (pp)  Nic Petan assisted by Anthony Mantha and Derek Pouliot

18:40:  Canada – (en)  Nic Petan assisted by Sam Reinhart and Curtis Lazar

-Shots on Goal:  Canada – 49

Slovakia – 22

-Players of the Game:  Canada – Anthony Mantha

Slovakia – Samuel Baros

-Attendance:  2,558

-Final Score:  Canada – 5

Slovakia – 3

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