EDMONTON They jumped, smiled, hugged and sang “O Canada” like champions.
And that was just the fans.
Kent Johnson scored in a three-on-three overtime and Rogers Place erupted with joy as Canada beat Finland 3-2 in the junior hockey world championship final. The beleaguered tournament ended on a high note, with Canada winning gold for the nineteenth time.
Canada was perfect, they won all seven games, but for a while it seemed like only friends and family cared.
Finally, however, the roar of the crowd was heard loud and clear, hockey fans in Edmonton finally warmed up to the 11-day event. It was the largest crowd of the tournament, 13,327, and they enjoyed the best game.
Canadian captain Mason McTavish, who made a desperate save in extra time by knocking the puck out of the air at the goal line moments before Canada scored at the other end, fell short of some junior world records by being named Tournament MVP. then carrying the flag around the ice.
McTavish set up goals from Josh Roy and William Dufour to pick up at least one point in each game and finish as the leading scorer with 17 points. That total ties Wayne Gretzky (1978) and Eric Lindros (1991) for a single junior world tournament, and put him one shy of tying Dale McCourt (1977) and Brayden Schenn (2011) for the Canadian record.
It was the first time since 2015 that a Canadian had led the tournament in scoring. That year it was Sam Reinhart (five goals, six assists), although Canadians Nic Petan (four goals, seven assists) and Connor McDavid (three goals, eight assists) also reached 11 points.
The end was nail-biting, with the passing-happy Canadians missing out on goalscoring opportunities and the defensive-minded Finns guarding goalkeeper Juha Jatkola. Aleksi Heimosalmi scored at 4:09 of the third, and Joakim Kemell scored at 10:46, set up with a beautiful pass from Leafs prospect Topi Niemelä to tie the game.
With a goal in the first period and another in the second, Canada led 2-0 at the end of 40 minutes and McTavish had two assists.
McTavish took the puck through the zone, around the net and shot, with Roy grabbing the rebound at 11:18 of the first period. Canada had a 7-0 shooting advantage at one point, but Finland challenged in the second half of the first.
The second period was all Canada, but only Dufour scored, again set up by McTavish. Canada had five power plays in that period with Finland reeling. If anything, the Canadians were guilty of overshooting the puck, although the Finns took away their firing lanes.
The break could have been the difference. The Canadians had a bit more of that, having played an afternoon semi-final on Friday; Finland played an evening match and defeated the Swedes. Sweden went home with their seventh bronze medal, and 19th overall, after beating the Czechs 3-1 in Saturday’s third-place match.
The final was destined to be historic if only because Canada and Finland had never met for the championship before, even though this was Finland’s fourth trip to the final in the last nine years, and Canada’s fifth in eight. years.
This was a strange tournament from the start, more for the players than for the fans. But many of the players who initially made the roster back in December chose not to play in this summer makeover version.
That was really an opportunity for Canada to prepare for the next tournament, which will be hosted in December by Halifax and Moncton. In total, 11 members of this Canadian team are eligible to return.
McTavish will likely be in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks, but the other 10 could return, bringing invaluable experience.
“Any time you can leverage experience to move forward, it’s beneficial,” head coach Dave Cameron said. “That’s how we get better, because you go through that pressure. One of the things you can’t practice is pressure. You talk about it all you want. The pressure of a shootout, you can practice it until hell freezes over, but you can’t duplicate that pressure (from medal games).”
The biggest name of the bunch for December is Connor Bedard, the 17-year-old phenom from Regina Pats, destined to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL draft.
“You can’t think too much about the future, but I think it’s good for all the guys that are here that they will be there in December,” he said. “It’s pretty cool”.
Logan Stankoven, whose NHL rights are owned by the Dallas Stars, heads a list of players born in 2003 who could return, which also includes defensemen Olen Zellweger (Ducks), Carson Lambos (Minnesota Wild) and Ethan del Mastro ( Chicago Blackhawks). ; and forwards Josh Roy (Montreal Canadiens), Riley Kidney (also Canadiens), Brennan Othmann (NY Rangers), Zack Ostapchuk (Ottawa Senators) and Nathan Gaucher (also Ducks).
“Obviously if you can go through this tournament and use it as a learning experience, you’ll find out what it really takes,” Stankoven said.
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