OTTAWA, CANADA -- Apparently the Canadians have defied all of the odds by almost cruising into the World Junior Championships' gold medal round against the United States of America. The Victory Hockey League's premier news outlet - Victory Sports News - ranked the Canadian hockey club last due to their weaknesses at forward and defense, yet the hockey clubs team effort has earned them at least a silver medal in this seasons hockey skill showdown. Canada's goaltender duet has displayed some impressive skill between the pipes, they've told the world that the blue crease is theirs to lose, and boy have they claimed dominance in this seasons WJC.
Canada has faced 'superior teams' every game, if we use the VSN's ranking as a comparison, but I think Canada's weakness isn't the roster itself with the 'jack of all trades' approach it naturally shifted to with the players available for selection. I strongly believe that the proper weakness for Canada is the lack of a true offensive or defensive VHL player other teams had. Team Canada has one player in the VHL, and he played two games against the United States of America, while VHLM starter Hextall started the first six games for Canada. Goalies are definitely a strength for Canada, but having balanced roster isn't. I wouldn't even say Canada's roster is mediocre, it features many VHLM capped players, and while not a strength in the WJC it does provide some remarkable balance.
You'll see it mentioned a lot down below. CANADA 3 - 1 EUROPE
The Canadians first game was against VSN's top ranked hockey club, and they dominated them for a short while. By that we mean the Canadians were dominated... but only statistically during the first period. The Canadians let a surprising twenty six shots on net during the first twenty minutes of the game, but tightened up their play in the second and third periods and displayed a very competitive roster against the Europeans. Although Canada's Jaxx Hextall was remarkable this game, the strength of the Canadian roster was actually their well balanced roster. Sure, the first period was bad, and Hextall bailed them out... however, beyond that - the last 2/3rds of the game, the Canadian club came together and defeated the Europeans for their first win of the tournament.
Let's not take this away from Hextall, though, it's because of him this game ended 3-1 with his forty two saves that shutdown Europe's offense.
Combine Hextall with the seven individual Canadians who got on the score sheet this game, with Velvet and McDagg earning two points each, it's easy to see why the 'well balanced roster' was the star of this game. CANADA 2 - 1 WORLD
The second game the Canadians played was much closer, but this time the sole star of this victory lies on the strength of Jaxx Hextall's performance in the goal crease. Hextall once again earned forty two saves on the forty three shots he faced, and the Canadians only dominant period - the first - also produced their two goals of this tight hockey match. Team World climbed away from Canada mid-way through the second period, ending the frame trailing by one goal and creating more chances than the Canadians could muster. The third period was almost all World, but a few push backs from the Canadian club with strings of shots and opportunities gave the Canadians a bit of a breather. Jared and Rassmussen both scored in the first period, which ended up just just enough for the victory. The well balanced roster wasn't as strong this game as it was against the Europeans, but the thing about well balanced rosters is they're not great at anything but not terrible at another either. They're the jack-of-all trades type of roster builds, and I think this game showcases how Canada plays their game. They're not going to offensively dominate another team but have a weak defense, and they're not going to choke a teams offense with a strong defense. Their goaltending show from Hextall brought them through this one, but Hextall and Lafontaine are the Canadian's 'strength' and it was to be expected they'd show up while wearing the Canadian maple leaf on their chests. CANADA 4 - 3 ASIA (OVERTIME)
The Canadians and Asians were pretty similar through forty minutes of game time, and even though Asia had the lead on the shot clock and scoreboard, the story behind those shots told a much more balanced story... or about as balanced as STHS can make it appear, anyway. The score however told a different story, with Asia leading 3-1 heading into the third period. Rasmussen's lone goal for Canada in the first was their only strike at that point in the game. It was generally back and forth for the most part, so each teams offense was able to conquer over the others defense, and at times both teams defense defeated the others offense. It looked like a classic rock, paper, scissors game between the two hockey clubs, but Asia won three times over Canada's one.
By the third period, however, Canada stepped out ahead despite being out shot in the period 15-6. Asia took twice the amount of shots (and then some) but were generally weaker shots that were sucked up by Hextall generally without a rebound, or tossed to the sideboards behind the net. The quality of the Canadian shots displayed careful offensive opportunities, and Canada drew within one after Damien Wolfe collected his own rebound off the backboards and hit the twine.
With just under two minutes left in the game Alex Burrows tied it for team Canada. In the overtime frame the Canadians won the game after Hextall made an easy save, froze the puck, and allowed Canada to reset their lines. Jared won the faceoff back to Velvet, who skated down the rink and took a shot from the blue line that completed Canada's comeback just 32 seconds into the five minute frame. Jaxx Hextall once again stood on his head and made fifty saves, but some credit to the Canadian defenders is due for containing the majority of Asia's shots to the wall. The tightened up offense allowed Hextall to make a save and redirect the puck behind the net, allow it to rebound towards a defender or cover the puck up without a rebound. At first the Asians had quality scoring chances, went up 3-1 after forty minutes, but couldn't find many opportunities in the third period. So far VSN is correct, their strength is goaltending, but the claim that their roster is their weakness is somewhat incorrect. While their claim that Canada doesn't have a true 'superpower' on offense or defense is true at a national level, they do have VHLM top ten scoring leaders in both Erik Killinger and Hugh Jass. If the cap for the WJC was 250 instead of 350, they'd be some of the tournaments top players in a multi-way tie with other 250 rated players.
CANADA 4 - 3 ASIA
In a rematch between the Asians and the Canadians, it can be best summed up by saying it was the 'same shit in a different pile'. Jaxx Hextall performed remarkable, just as he had in his three other starts, making forty plus saves for the forth time in a row. Both teams played well, but this time the Canadian 'stars' activated after three relatively quiet games. Defender Hugh Jass never hit the scoreboard, but he played thirty two minutes for the Canadian club and was nearly sound defensively for his club. Meanwhile, teammate Erik Killinger erupted offensively with three points, where he only had two in the previous three games. Did we mention he had fifteen shots this game? Yeah... one-five shots, fifteen.
Despite Killinger taking nearly half of the shots Canada recorded, this game was a pretty well-balanced effort from the Canadian club. They weren't amazing at one thing, but they weren't terrible at another, and kept the game going back and forth the whole night. From all of the games that Canada has played up to this point, Asia has been their most difficult challenge, simply because their roster is more or less the same from a quick glance. No real roses, but no real shits either. WORLD 6 - 0 CANADA
There is really nothing to say about this game. Canada came out and laid a giant goose egg, even though the game was - in most perspectives other than the score - pretty back and forth between the two clubs. Canada was victorious the last time these two teams met, emerging with a 2-1 victory, but team Canada's win in that match was solely on the shoulders of Jaxx Hextall and his performance in net. EUROPE 3 - 2 CANADA (OVERTIME)
When you look at the fact that Canada has been out shot in every game they play, it's easy to say things like 'they're not that good' or 'their weakness is really showing'. I counter that by saying the Canadian club isn't about dominating one side of the game or another, and admit their strength in net is factual, but the truth behind Canada's squad is their well-balanced approach isn't really a weakness. They have players like Killinger, Daldo, Jass, Velvet, Wolfe, Burrows and Graves who are all defensively responsible while also possessing offensive and physical skills. Of course when you compare this core of players against another teams top player who playing in the league top level of competition, they're not going to look appealing, because the entirety of Canada's core - minus Lafontaine - are still playing in the minor system with their respective VHLM teams.
In this particular game Jaxx Hextall once again performed well, and the Canadians top defender - Jass - finally got a pair of goals for his junior resume. The Canadians ended up loosing this game in overtime, but it was a pretty even game all things considered. CANADA 4 - 3 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
If this is a prequel to the gold medal match, we're going to be in for a real nice treat, regardless of which club comes away with the more expensive necklace. To say this game was even is an understatement, both the United States of America and Canada played eerily similar games against one another. The difference is Canada had Erik Killinger with his hat trick, twelve shots on net, two hits and just over thirty four minutes of ice time. Canada also had a tall wal- wait, no, Lafontaine started this game! Hugh Jass recorded two points as well, but the thing about this game was Canada's special teams were on point -- well their penalty kill was, anyway. I'd say they had a flawless penalty kill, and two power play goals on eight chances is still producing at a quarter rate, so it was alright. In fact it was their power play success and collapse during five on five play that gave some of Canada's skaters a negative plus/minus rating! CANADA 4 - 1 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The Canadians will play the Americans three times in the World Juniors, and one of them is for the gold medal, so we've got a free two game sample to judge how it'll go. Canada is up two-zero, so it's reasonable to be confident they can win the gold medal game as well. Obviously coaches will be making their adjustments, lines will be changing and strategies will be altered. Whoever can gain the tactical advantage over the other will emerge victorious, and the club who does will be enjoying their celebration later on. Lafontaine made twenty seven saves as Canada cruised to a four-one win over the Americans, and Erik Killinger recorded two goals and an assist in the victory. The Canadian forward had nine shots, a plus one, four hits in over thirty one minutes of ice time. Rasmussen earned three helpers on the evening, and McDagg continued his success against the U.S by earning another two points. If we use these two games as a foundation for a prediction, we could anticipate Lafontaine to get the start and McDagg, Rasmussen, Jass and Killinger to continue earning points against the American squad.
Just over 2, 000 words. Claiming for the next four weeks.