(Team Canada celebrates one of five goals. Photo courtesy IIHF)
DobberHockey senior prospects writer Matt Bugg is covering the 2012 World Junior Championships live from Edmonton and Calgary. He’ll be posting updates throughout the week.
“Were they full measure for the win?” CTV News Channel’s Dan Matheson asked me on AM Express the morning after Team Canada's 5-0 victory over the Czech Republic.
A day later, and I’m still not sure.
Yes, the game was only a close one by any standard for the first twenty minutes. 1-0 after one on Mark Stone’s then-fourth goal of the tournament, Canada nevertheless was, well, un-Canada-like in taking three ill-advised penalties during the first frame that allowed the Czech Republic an opportunity to turn the tide.
That, of course, didn’t happen. The joke in the press box was that the Czechs were being nice to their hosts, killing Team Canada’s penalties for them. Although they seamlessly penetrated the box with heads-up passes and crafty feints, the Czechs failed to record a meaningful chance.
This was in stark contrast to the day’s earlier contest, one in which the Americans led 1-0 after one, only to watch an upstart Finnish club execute perfectly on their few opportunities enroute to a 4-1 win.
Execution was what mattered in this contest, and what the Czechs lacked, the Canadians were more than happy to make up for as the game wore on. 3-0 after forty, Mark Schiefele and Tanner Pearson would dominate the last frame to close out the 5-0 win.
If there was anything meaningful to take away from the contest, it was that this version of Team Canada won’t be leaning on the contributions of just one player or line. Beyond Stone and the aforementioned Barrie Colts duo, Ryan Strome and Brett Connolly also made key plays at key times to push the game out of reach. Even Ryan Murray, the only skater not to have been through the Draft once before, stood out on subsequent penalty kills.
But this could also prove a problem against Pool A’s juggernaut Swedish and Russian entries- not to mention the Americans on New Year’s Eve. While a 4-1 loss to Finland all but ended their chances at finishing first in Pool B, Team USA had an unnerving habit of turning a broken or seemingly harmless play into a dangerous scoring chance- something they excelled at during last year’s tournament.
If Team Canada makes the same miscues as they did against the Czech Republic, it’s a good bet that the results won’t be as forgiving.
Drafted Player Grades- Team Canada
RW Mark Stone- A
Created havoc with his power game. His ability to generate and pounce on rebounds that didn’t go in the first time will be an important asset in the medal round.
C Ryan Strome- A
Canada had not scored for over 30 minutes until Strome danced in and put his second of the tournament by a hapless Petr Mrazek. Arguably the turning point of the game, even if it was out-shone by Brett Connolly’s subsequent goal- which Strome did a yeoman’s job of supporting.
C Mark Schiefele- B+
A two-goal third period made up for a relatively quiet first forty, but the Winnipeg Jets draftee has lacked bite unless paired with Tanner Pearson- who arguably did the lion’s share of the work on both goals.
G Scott Wedgewood- B+
Didn’t face a lot of action, but handled what he did with confidence and a consistent state of readiness. Doesn’t have a habit of watching the play as Mark Visentin sometimes does. His puck movement alone alters Canada’s attack.
Drafted Player Grades- Czech Republic
G Petr Mrazek- A
Could’ve had a better third period, but the first three goals were all-world. Kept the Czechs in the game with some incredible pad work and reaction time.
D David Musil- C+
Had an extremely poor outing; the wrinkles that showed but didn’t cost the Czechs earlier in the round robin were exposed by the Canadians, and Musil found himself spun like the top on more than one occasion. Play reading and mobility are huge concerns.