This game at the WJC has become a New Year’s Eve tradition and probably the game most junior hockey fans look forward to each year. Each year there is very little to choose from between these two hockey nations. Being that it was on home soil and in the hockey savvy Bell Centre really made it advantage Canada. It was a thriller and gave fans every penny of the big prices they paid for their tickets.
The game was chalked up as a Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel clash. That really underplays the skill and desire of the other 40-some players in the game. The World Junior Championship has often been labeled a 19 year old tournament in that the 19 year olds usually dominate and this game was no different. Players like Max Domi and Sam Reinhart dominated for the Canadiens with 18 year olds Dylan Larkin and Sonny Milano spurring on the U.S. side. In the end both McDavid and Eichel had an assist each, but if you had to name a winner then this one goes to McDavid as Eichel ended the game -3.
Demonstrating that this was going to be an offensively minded game right from the beginning shots came fast and furious in the pretty much evenly played 1st period. Canada directed 17 at the United States’ Thatcher Demko while Canada’s surprise starter Eric Comrie had to deal with 13. Despite seeing all that rubber neither goaltender flinched and the 1st ended in a 0-0 deadlock.
That does not mean that the period was uneventful. When Anthony Duclair and Tyler Motte got into it even before the puck was dropped to begin the game you knew that it was going to be a physical contest. A fun to watch grudge match. While the teams are roughly the same size it was Canada who definitely had the advantage physically. Josh Morrissey and Nick Ritchie doled out a couple of thunderous hits over the course of the 1st period.
Through much of the tournament Max Domi, a player who was left off the Canadian team last year, has been the emotional sparkplug for his team. He plays with plenty of enthusiasm without getting penalties. The Montreal fans love the way he plays the game so much they forgot for the time being that he is property of the Arizona Coyotes and his former NHLer father was a member of the hated Toronto Maple Leafs and chanted “Domi, Domi” at several points during and after the game. Domi showed his combination of skill and speed on the game’s opening goal.
For most of the 2nd period the Canadian team carried the play and finally opened the scoring just over 7 minutes into the period. The goal came as a result of a partnership that has really shone over the first 4 games of the tournament for Canada – Max Domi and Sam Reinhart. Domi used his speed down the left side and then toe dragged the puck around U.S. defender Brandon Carlo to release a wrist shot on net. The cerebral Reinhart just knows where to be on the ice and was the first man on the rebound. With his head up he fed the puck over to Domi, who continued towards the net after taking the initial shot. Domi’s shot found space over Demko’s pad and sent the crowd into fits of joy.
If the crowd was happy after that goal they were ecstatic after Morrissey doubled Canada’s lead on the power play just over 3 minutes later. The U.S.’s best offensive player on the day, Dylan Larkin was assessed a high sticking penalty, but he did not have to spend much time in the penalty box as Morrissey’s slapper from the blue line that was just 6 inches off the ice and found the far side happened just 13 seconds after he sat down.
Canada was in control, outshooting the U.S. by a fair margin and ahead by 2 goals. On top of that they were playing well defensively. Besides the obvious speed and skill the team possesses a sound defensive unit and play a good game in their own end. I think that is obvious considering they had only given up 1 goal over the tournament’s first 10 periods.
It took a power play for the U.S. to score a goal. Duclair took a silly tripping penalty in the offensive zone and gave the U.S. the opportunity to get back into the game. Eichel started the play along the left side and slid the puck to Milano in the slot. Milano then found an unmarked Anthony DeAngelo back door giving Comrie no chance to move over and stop the shot.
The game stayed a one-goal affair until midway through the 3rd period. Canada’s captain Curtis Lazar showed his desire on the goal that made it 3-1 Canada. McDavid used his speed against Zach Werenski and got a shot on net that seem to handcuff Demko. Lazar was crashing the net and the rebound hit his upper body before it went into the net. They looked at the goal on video replay, but could find nothing wrong with it and it counted.
A big part of the game was the electric atmosphere at the Bell Centre. The overwhelmingly Canadian fans were up for the game and made it a lot of fun to be there. It must have also been great for these junior aged players who are generally used to playing before a couple of thousand rather than this boisterous 18 plus thousand. One thing they might have learned (though I doubt it because it is a Montreal thing) was singing the Ole, Ole Oles too early. They did with roughly around 3 minutes left and the Americans silenced them with a goal to bring the game to a white knuckle 3-2.
It seemed like that was how the game was going to end with Canada giving up few chances to the U.S. until a giveaway made this a tight game once again. Defenseman Dillon Heatherington coughed up the puck in his own end and the Americans made him pay. Milano collected the puck and fed it over to Hudson Fasching. After stickhandling it a bit Fasching played the puck over to a wide-open Larkin near the far post. Oh oh!
With Demko out of the net once again it seemed like Canada sealed the affair when Reinhart stole the puck from DeAngelo in the U.S. and put the puck in the empty net. But celebrating would prove to be the wrong move as pretty much off the face off Larkin beat Comrie with a wrist shot from the right boards. It was a weak goal and a shot that Comrie, who played a strong game up to this point, would like to have back.
Once again the Americans pulled Demko and again the Reinhart-Domi combo resulted in a goal. Domi forced a turnover in the Canadian end and Reinhart, showing his smarts, used a bank pass off the boards to send Domi in alone on the empty U.S. net. That was finally it after an exciting last 3 minutes of play. Canada won 5-3 and secured 1st place in Group A.
Winning a well-played and exciting to the last moment game 5-3 Canada ended up on top of Group A. This meant that the U.S. finished 2nd and would have the much tougher quarterfinal match up having to play Russia (on Friday afternoon at the Bell Centre) while Canada would travel to Toronto to take on the weaker Denmark.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees – Marcus Vinnerborg (Sweden) and Mikko Kaukokari (Finland)
Linesmen – Miroslav Lhotsky (Czech Republic) and Andreas Malmqvist (Sweden)
-Goals: 2nd Period:
7:07: Canada – Max Domi assisted by Sam Reinhart
10:11: Canada – (pp) Josh Morrissey assisted by Robby Fabbri and Nic Petan
13:12: United States – (pp) Anthony DeAngelo assisted by Jack Eichel and Sonny Milano
10:01: Canada – Curtis Lazar assisted by Connor McDavid
17:26: United States – Dylan Larkin assisted by Sonny Milano and Hudson Fasching
19:06: Canada – (en) Sam Reinhart unassisted
19:18: United States – Dylan Larkin assisted by Noah Hanifin
19:56: Canada – (en) Max Domi assisted by Sam Reinhart
-Shots on Goal: Canada – 43
United States – 28
-Players of the Game: Canada – Max Domi
United States – Thatcher Demko
-Final Score: Canada – 5
United States – 3