EDMONTON One of the beloved characteristics of the world junior hockey championship is that it can be a coming-out party for the next generation of hockey stars.
And if Sunday’s opener was any indication, the Buffalo Sabers have something special about 6-foot-6 defender Owen Power.
The Mississauga native and University of Michigan product had a hat-trick in his first world youth appearance, to lead Canada to a 6-3 victory over a brave team from the Czech Republic.
Olen Zellweger, Mason McTavish and Donovan Sebrango also scored for Canada, who have surpassed their record by the Czechs, who now call themselves the Czech Republic, to 18-1-2.
Michal Gut, Pavel Novak and Stanislav Svozil all scored for the Czechs, who spooked the Canadians by taking a 3-1 lead in the first period.
Power’s goals stood out. After the Czechs rose 3-1 in the middle of the first, Canada coach Dave Cameron called for a time-out. Power responded on the next turn, a shot to elude Jakub Malek.
Then in the second, Power scored twice. Both were goals in power plays and the result of 5 against 3, after the Czechs took two penalties in the same play when they already had a player down.
Power play is often the difference in a short tournament, and this one gave Canada some confidence and some breathing room in a game that was closer than expected at first. More physical, bigger and more talented, Canada finally took over the game, giving the Czechs very little time with the puck.
In the end, the score flattered the Czechs, who had their only pre-tournament match canceled due to COVID. Canada held a 37-17 shot lead, controlling the game once Power got to work.
Power play: Power has had a regular year, charting his own path to stardom.
He was probably good enough to play for Canada a year ago, but Michigan didn’t release him because he would have spent too many days out of college (more than 50, given the restrictive COVID protocols that were in place last year).
Then Power joined team Canada, the senior men’s team, which won gold at the world championship in Latvia. He went from a small role at the beginning of the tournament to a major contributor. From there, the Sabers picked him first overall in the NHL draft.
He refused to turn pro, wanting a more complete college experience, and shot the juniors of the world. Now that NHL members aren’t going to the Olympics, Power could well be on the radar for an appearance at the Winter Games in Beijing.
Not so great: It was a much smaller crowd than expected at Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers, which hosted Canada’s first game in the Christmas tournament for the world’s best hockey players under the age of 20. Capacity was limited to half of the 18,500-seat arena. but far fewer came after Hockey Canada offered refunds. Perhaps the cold kept them away: it’s -27 ° C under an extreme cold warning in this part of the world. Maybe it was because they couldn’t get snacks and drinks, and finally decided it was better to watch from home than in person.
They missed out on some fun, if choppy hockey. Defense was a buzz in the first period as the players fought their way through the zones. McTavish’s goal was like that. He circled the Czech zone without being challenged before taking a wrist shot for the opener.
Madcap first: Six goals in total, three each, were scored on 17 shots in a first period in which each team’s defense was closer to that of Swiss cheese. The Czechs were even up 3-1: the third goal was a beauty from Svozil and his movement between the legs to beat Canadian defender Olen Zellweger and then goalkeeper Dylan Garand. Cameron called for a time out. Canada responded with a Power goal in the next turn, just 23 seconds after Svozil’s goal, and then a Sebrango goal in the final minute. All those insane back-and-forth runs amounted to excitement, but they decided nothing, the game tied 3-3, Canada held the shooting lead 10-7.
Bedard watch: One name Canadians might also start to become familiar with is Connor Bedard, who became the first 16-year-old to play for Team Canada in this tournament since Connor McDavid in 2015. Bedard started the game as the thirteenth forward. from Canada. He set up Sebrango’s tying goal late in the first, and practically played the rest of the way on the front row with Shane Wright and Cole Perfetti.
COVID calls: The tournament started with five COVID cases. A Finnish player, a Swiss player, an Austrian and two game officials. All were in self-isolation, the IIHF said.
COVID has another direct effect on the tournament: no team will be relegated due to the unpredictability of the current situation. The IIHF announced that change minutes before the first match of the tournament was played. A team was supposed to be relegated, and Belarus had won promotion. The IIHF said the next world youth tournament, in Russia, will be played with 11 teams instead of the usual 10.
Victory Available: In the previous game in Canada’s group, Finland beat Germany 3-1 with a pair of goals from Kings prospect Samuel Helenius. Undrafted 19-year-old Joel Maatta added a single. Brad Lambert, in the mix as one of the top five picks next summer, had a pair of assists.
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