Team Canada @ the 2023 World Junior Championships – Our Analysis

Posted on December 27, 2022

Our WJC 2023 Analysis Headquarters

Canada vs Czechia – Boxing Day (5-2 L)

*** Pretty simple formula for the Czech’s in this one. KISS method, keep it simple; the Czech’s knew they couldn’t win an arms race with the defending WJC Champs, so they played to their strengths and capitalized twice on a 5-on-3 PP. A brilliant goaltending performance by Thomas Suchanek, too.

*** Lets address the elephant in the room here – ‘the Michigan’. In the early 2000’s, if you were trying this move more than once every blue moon, someone was going to jump you off a face-off. But in today’s game – where Instagram likes and shrivelled attention spans reign supreme – we see it twice from the Canadian’s in the same period. It’s a unique way of creating offence, and with the style that modern day goalies utilize (always down), the top part of the net is often exposed on the wrap play so it will go in sometimes. Credit to the Czech ‘keeper for staying big on both chances. Hockey traditionalists will dislike this maneuver, but this is 2023 and this move has some merit if used at the right time.

*** Was the Zach Dean hit a 5 minute major? In my world – awe hell naw! Maybe a 2 for charging, maybe a 2 for roughing; but 5 and an ejection? That’s a little rich for me. Dean’s hands came up a little bit, but from the camera angles shown to us by TSN, it did not look like any part of Zach Dean made contact with the Czech players head. It was a momentum-changing bump the Canadian’s needed, who came out very flat after the disallowed 2nd goal and were trailing 3-2 at the time. There were some painfully soft penalty calls in this hockey game – both of Gaucher’s penalties were very borderline, one of which I thought was going to go to the Czech’s for diving.

*** We probably aren’t talking about a Team Canada loss if the goal to put Canada up 2 in the first period had have counted. The goal was offside no question, but the long break and goal being taken off the board seemed to deflate the crowd, and the Canadian players. When you’re the favourite, an early 2-0 lead in your own building makes the road team think ‘here we go again’ and the complexion of the game often changes.

*** Canada’s D zone face-offs need a lot of work. The Czech’s second goal was won so clean back to the point that it almost looked like a set play to purposely lose the draw. Wright was called upon again in the 2nd to take an identical draw on the same side and lost it cleaner than a doctor’s office. I don’t have the advanced stats in front of me, but I’d wager a guess that Canada was below 50% in the circle last night.

*** Everyone is talking about Canadian goaltending and why Canada isn’t developing elite goaltenders at the same rate as other countries. A potential reason for this is often overlooked… how many Canadian’s can afford to play the goaltender position? The sheer expense of the position means that Canada is essentially selecting from only an affluent demographic. Think about this – your son or daughter is a 14-year-old goalie playing AA/AAA and wears senior equipment. Go price out pads, protective, sticks, masks, etc and then put the following on top of it – goaltending instruction (upwards of $50 an hour), AA/AAA hockey registration (maybe prep school), Spring showcases, etc etc etc etc. I bet there are goaltending parents out there who spend a median Canadian salary per year on one season of hockey for their son or daughter to be a goalie. A position that relies heavily on athleticism might be missing out on elite athletes because of dollars and cents.

*** Bedard is absolutely electric, and is far and away the best prospect in this upcoming NHL Draft class. Anyone who is putting anyone else into the conversation with Bedard is hunting for article clicks at this point in time. Everyone will talk about Bedard’s shot, but the thing I like the most about his game is his eyes are always up. Most elite shooters are just that, but Bedard has excellent vision and has such a great feel for where the soft ice will be. Once he gets stronger through his hands/a little stronger on his stick, he is going to be even better which is terrifying for the opposition.

You, sir, are electric

*** While they made some boo-boo’s defensively yesterday, Canada’s D corps are big, quick, fast in the open ice and good with the puck. This might be one of Canada’s top-5 strongest defensive units in program history.

*** If I’m Dennis Williams (Team Canada HC), I’d give Joshua Roy a look with Wright and Bedard. I think he’s smart enough to play with the dynamic duo, and takes some pressure off Othmann who looks to be squeezing his stick very tight after last night. Othmann seemed to try and fit a lot of square peg passes into round hole lanes last night, which led to a lot of turnovers. I’d also go with Milic in goal against the Germans and back with Gaudreau vs Austria to build his confidence in case he’s needed later in the tournament.

*** Canada does not need to hit the panic button after Day 1 of the tournament. Canada does battle with Germany (their 3rd game in 3 days) on Wednesday, followed by Austria Thursday.

Canada vs Germany – December 28 (11-2 W)

*** The online vultures can pump the brakes on chirping the Canadians after tonight’s performance.

*** Dennis Williams’ line changes were A-OK. Sliding Fantilli down the lineup and promoting Joshua Roy was just what the doctor ordered. Roy is easy to play with and has sneaky speed; his pass off the wall on Bedard’s breakaway goal was under-appreciated but phenomenal. A blade-to-blade cross-ice beauty to Stankoven with a man in his face – golf claps all around.

*** The German D corps must have been working at a Halifax bakery this morning, because they were serving up turnovers left, right and centre in this one. Even in situations where the Canadian forwards didn’t pressure the German D, they turned it over in the middle of the ice numerous times.

*** Teams that play Canada in the playoff rounds better hope that the referees don’t give them any power plays. Canada’s PP is lethal, as evidenced by their 7 goals on the man advantage tonight. Teams assume Bedard will be the triggerman, but the phenoms ability to fake and distribute with sublime passing accuracy is mighty impressive. It is hard to fathom that Bedard is 2 years younger than most players on this Canadian club. My player comparable for Bedard is Steven Stamkos, with a touch of Adam Oates. Bedard has a missile – which everyone in the rink has to honor – but he is an under-rated passer and his shot fakes make goalies freeze for just enough time to make them late to one-timers.

*** The German’s hit a perfect storm tonight. An angry Canadian team, coming off a loss and a day of rest, facing a team on its 3rd game in 3 nights was a recipe for a blowout.

*** It doesn’t seem like either Canadian goaltender is comfortable yet. The first goal by the German’s was a puck that needs to be stopped in medal round play; a shot from the top of the circle with some minor traffic is a save that the Slovaks, the Czechs and the Swedes are getting right now (and will likely get them down the stretch).

*** Was this game an outlier for the German’s, or was their 1-0 loss to powerhouse Sweden? Time will tell.

Scott Kirby. Shane Wright. Friends forever.

Canada vs Austria – December 29th (11-0 W)

*** This was a mismatch from the jump, with Canada having possession of the puck for practically the entire game. Congratulations to Zach Dean on becoming one of the few Newfoundlander’s to score a goal at the World Junior Championships. Off hand, the only other NL’ers that have scored in WJC play are Dwayne Norris (thanks Twitterverse), John Slaney, Michael Ryder, Harold Druken, Luke Adam, Dawson Mercer, and Alex Newhook. We totally whiffed on this on Twitter (said there were only 5). Oops.

Canada vs Sweden – December 31st (5-1 W)

*** Canada came out bumping and grinding in this match, which threw the Swedes for a loop. The only issue with that effective gameplan is the way the tournament is called; although Canada jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, they took a 5-minute kneeing penalty shortly after which the Swedes capitalized on.

*** 5-on-5, Sweden could not generate anything consistently and failed to capitalize on a handful of odd-man rushes in the 2nd period. When the game was 3-1, Thomas Milic made a crucial ‘toenail’ save (God love Gord Miller and his Morgan Freeman-esque commentary voice) to keep the score locked. This tournament has a similar feel to the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City; Canada started Curtis Joseph and lost (coincidentally 5-2), Martin Brodeur went in and was just good enough in front of a very good team to capture the gold. Canada is strong enough where I don’t think they will need a Manny Legace-esque performance to steal a game in this tournament, but will need Milic to be just good enough and make the key saves at the right times/weather storms.

*** The Chicago Blackhawks might be in the Western Conference cellar right now, however, their recent drafting would indicate that they will not be there for long. The ‘Hawks own the rights to Kevin Korchinski, Nolan Allan, Colton Dach, AND Ethan Del Mastro (plus Ryan Greene, who was invited to Canada’s camp). What a young nucleus of talent to build a franchise around! Once Chicago purge themselves of Jon Toews (contract ends this year), and Patrick Kane (contract ends next year), a full rebuild can commence with the aforementioned names at the forefront plus Frank Nazar (good player), and Sam Savoie (good player in Gatineau right now). Chicago drafted real well in the mid-2000’s, which led to a mini dynasty not long after. I would not be surprised if this 2022 class is a catalyst for an up-and-coming success run for the Windy City.

*** Is there a better sports day than New Years Eve? The World Junior’s on TSN, NHL on Sportsnet, and the CFB Playoffs on other networks. It is very easy to not just lie on the couch…. but to become a couch… on a day like NYE.

*** Canada face-off against Slovakia in the Quarter Finals, whom they beat 6-1 in pre-tournament play just before Christmas. The Slovaks are more than capable of pulling another upset in this tournament, as they already beat the powerful American’s in round robin play.

*** Owen Zellweger has exceptional edgework. The 34th overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft went around a Swedish winger in the offensive zone yesterday as if he wasn’t even there (2nd period). Zellweger’s inside edge control is pretty, period. Anaheim have some nice defenceman in their stable right now (Hinds, Luneau, Noah Warren, Mintyukov, Zellweger). Most of Anaheim’s current D corps are on the wrong side of 30, which would indicate that the group above will be the ‘next in line’ in SoCal.

Canada vs Slovakia – January 2 (4-3 OT W)

*** When watching Connor Bedard, try pulling a Steve Buscemi from Billy Madison; put on ‘Telephone Line’ by E.L.O, grab some lipstick, cross off Slovakia, and stare at the ceiling.. then the television. Click here for reference

*** Breaking down the OT winner – I think the D who dropped down (and got dangled) was thinking that he had inside help (he actually did, but it was too far away). Bedard had gone wide around the net earlier in the shift, and I think the D was thinking he’d do it again; which led to the stick to the left side of his body, allowing the walk. This was a long shift for both teams, and I think the weak side D was trying to catch his breath thinking Bedard would be neutralized by the forward and his partner. What makes this goal even more special is Bedard is into a long shift himself.

*** 3-on-3 overtime is hands down, far and away the best way to decide a hockey game vs the shootout. Whichever way you slice it, losing in overtime is heart-wrenching as a player and a coach; even more-so as a coach because you second guess the personnel on the ice, if you should have managed your bench differently leading up to that point in time, and so on.

*** To beat the American’s, Canada will have to get better in the face-off circle and be much tidier in their own end. I am very excited to watch Cutter Gauthier against the stiffest of competition tomorrow, as I like his game a lot for the next level. Philly have themselves a prospect in Gauthier (my opinion). The American’s throw the puck around with ease, and in the games I have seen so far, will make high-risk choices a lot of the time.

*** I feel bad for players/coaches who get interviewed between periods, because some of the questions they’re asked should never be tabled. Asking a player about the potential Canada-USA match-up after the first period in a close game vs another team is a no-no. No player is thinking past their next assignment, and if they are, they’re not going to tell the world.

*** Shane Wright was properly drafted at 4th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. Wright is a smart player who can make plays and does a good job in the bumper role on the Canadian PP. But he is far from dynamic out there. Wright is below average in the face-off circle despite Canada rolling him out there to take virtually every important one, he does not have a speed gear that can threaten a high-end defenceman wide, and I’m just not sold about his overall skating ability at the pro level. I think Wright’s NHL career arc will be more Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, not the next McDavid or Sid like prognosticators viewed him as after his crazy good rookie season in the OHL.

*** I have never been one to give two s**ts about player of the game awards (it’s a team game), but the Slovakian goalie (Adam Gajan) was my vote for P.O.G yesterday. While Canada made his night easier by missing a lot of nets, striking iron at least a half dozen times and allowing him to see a lot of pucks in the first period, Gajan was terrific and his 4 goals allowed were post-and-in 2v1, Bedard partial breakaway, Guenther back door Sally and Bedard’s OT tomfoolery.

Canada vs USA – January 4 (6-2 W)

*** The American’s came out of the gates buzzing; before the average fan could sing ‘Sweet Caroline’, the American’s held a 2-0 lead and were first to just about every puck. Bedard’s opening goal was like Rocky cutting Drago in Rocky IV; from there, the American’s looked mortal especially in their own end.

*** I like Tyson Hinds on Canada’s blue line. Hinds is big, strong, has good lateral mobility for a big fella and plays a simple game. Hinds will be a very important piece in Sherbrooke’s attempt at a QMJHL President’s Cup Championship this spring.

*** I still cannot believe that the American’s first disallowed goal was called back. Blake’s butt cheek barely grazed Milic; there was such little contact that I thought the Canadian’s hurt themselves by challenging (incorrect challenges result in a power play for the opposing team).

*** Thomas Milic was brilliant in goal tonight for the Canadian’s.

*** Just how important are face-offs? Both teams scored off won draws. A lost draw on an OZ PP costs your team about 20-30 seconds (or more, if you can’t get back into the OZ cleanly). If you lose a NZ draw, you might spend your entire shift chasing/trying to get the puck back. I can go on and on.

*** Nathan Gaucher has emerged as Canada’s best face-off man (even though he plays wing on this team), and should be used in just about every big-spot DZ draw tomorrow vs the Czech’s. Coach Williams cannot.. and I mean CANNOT – keep rolling out #15 to take draws in his own end because he hasn’t won many this tournament.

*** The Scotiabank Centre (I’ll always call it the Metro Centre) was a hostile environment for the American’s tonight. The pro-Canadian crowd was dialed in from the jump in this one.

*** The score may have read 6-2 at the final buzzer, but this was far from a 6-2 hockey game. The American’s had a big push to start the 3rd period and there were long stretches of this game where Canada were on the ropes taking punch after punch from the ultra quick American’s.

*** In a game where Bedard looked like a normal human being (a couple of points, not 7=8), it was nice to see Canada’s secondary scoring come alive. When you get a gino from your fourth line, that is a huge boost and Canada received just that on the 5th goal.

*** The heavy ice at the Metro Centre played into the Canadian’s hands in this hockey game, as I feel the American’s – pound for pound – are the faster club.

*** Zach Dean has played well for Canada to date, and the officiating allowing players to play the game is right up his alley. Dean made a beautiful backhand pass to Fantilli for the game winner, and almost had a short-handed point when he sent Josh Roy in all alone in the second period.