Canada shows promise at the 2017 World Junior Championship

Breaking down team Canada’s tournament performance and gold medal heartbreak

Graphic by Bram Keast

A year removed from their sixth place finish, the Canadian world junior team was able to advance to the gold medal game in this year’s tournament. The Americans were the lone obstacle in between Canada and gold, setting up yet another classic Canada versus USA world junior game. Canada was hungry for gold, having only won it once in the past seven tournaments.

The game lived up to all the hype, with the teams exchanging goals throughout, and with both goaltenders making big saves when called upon. The game needed a full 20-minute overtime period before the Americans would win the game and the gold in the tie-breaking shootout. A game for all the marbles was settled by a skills contest, forcing viewers to question why the shootout even exists in a winner takes all affair.

At the end of the day, Canada came up short, but progress was made from the previous year, and the team represented the nation well in the final game. The Manitoban breaks down Canada’s performance in the 2017 World Junior hockey championship.


Gold medal game

The game couldn’t have started any better for Canada. Tournament MVP Thomas Chabot and Jeremy Lauzon both scored and gave Canada a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission. The Americans stormed back in the second frame, as Charlie McAvoy and Kieffer Bellows were able to even the score, setting up an epic third period. Canada regained their two-goal lead early in the final frame, as Nicolas Roy and Mathieu Joseph found the net for team Canada. Just over three minutes later, the Americans once again tied the game up, with two quick goals from Bellows and Colin White. The second half of the period was dominated by the goaltenders, with neither team able to score, sending the game into overtime.

Canada created plenty of chances in the overtime period, but American goalie Tyler Parsons kept the puck out of his net. Parsons stopped 46 of the 50 shots he faced within the game, including a couple of unbelievable saves in the overtime period. The Americans forced Canadian netminder Carter Hart to make some key saves, as he stopped 31 of the 35 shots he faced in the match. Goaltending would remain at the centre, as overtime solved nothing, and the game needed a shootout.

Hart did his job, stopping four of the five American shooters, allowing only shootout phenom (he went four-for-four in shootout attempts in the tournament) Troy Terry to find the five-hole and the back of the net. Hart put Canada in a position to win the match, but Parsons kept the door shut, and Terry’s lone goal was enough to win the shootout.


Banish the shootout

When it comes to big games, the shootout always feels like a sorry way to end it. The NHL has a handle on this thought, as once the playoffs begin, shootouts are no more. 20-minute overtime periods are continuous until the game winner is scored. The IIHF should take notes from the NHL, and allow shootouts in round robin play, but eliminate the skills contest when it comes to the knockout and medal rounds.

The USA only got through to the final game by defeating the Russians in the semi-finals via the shootout, and then ended up winning it all in yet another one. The excitement level of both of those games was extremely high, and a continuous overtime would have let the excitement play out through team play, but instead both were settled by skill and luck alone.

The one good thing that comes out of the shootout in these tournaments, is the emergence of names such as Jonathan Toews, and most recently University of Denver product Troy Terry. The IIHF would generate even greater games if the shootout was eliminated from the playoff rounds in future tournaments. Despite how it ended, the gold medal game still lived up to the hype of a big game.  Would we be talking about eliminating the shootout as much if Canada won? Probably not, but still the change would benefit the game of hockey.


Monster d-man

Chabot was a complete monster for team Canada and was rewarded by being named MVP of the 2017 World Junior Championship. The six-foot-two blue-liner led all defenseman in the tournament in points, putting up 10 (4G, 6A) in just seven games. Chabot was a workhorse for team Canada, always leading the team in ice time, as he even played a ridiculous 43:53 in the final game. Chabot also produced a plus/minus of +8 in the tournament, showcasing his solid play offensively and defensively. Kale Clague also put up some numbers from the Canadian blue-line, providing six assists throughout the seven games.


Improved goaltending?

Canada’s goaltending has been a weakness as of late. Mackenzie Blackwood was supposed to be a reliable goalie for the team in last year’s tournament, but he failed to impress in his three games, putting up a .859 save percentage and allowing 3.95 goals per game. Both goalies for Canada were not particularly great, as together they had a .860 save percentage, and allowed an average of 3.58 goals a game. Those statistics had Canada ranked ninth in goaltending out of the ten teams in the tournament.

The 2017 tournament got off to yet another rocky start in the crease, as the team’s goalies finished the tournament ranked eighth out of the ten teams. Hart was thought to be the number one goalie before his early tournament struggles, which turned the crease over to Connor Ingram who was not a lot better. The goaltending became a liability in the semi-final match against Sweden when Ingram allowed two goals on the first three shots.

The team immediately handed the crease back to Hart, and he back stopped Canada into the gold medal game, stopping all 28 shots he faced in the match. Hart allowed four goals in the final game but made the big saves when he had to. Unfortunately, it was not enough to win the game, but goaltending improved at the end as Hart stopped 60 of the 64 shots he faced in his final two games combined. Canada can only hope they maintain that for the 2018 tournament in Buffalo.


Scoring by committee

Canada was loaded with skill up front in this tournament, and the coaching staff has said they would have to score by committee. That all became evident when this edition of the Canadian junior team hit the ice, as five players scored three or more goals in the tournament. Julien Gauthier and Taylor Raddysh led the way, each sniping five goals in the team’s seven games.

Chabot was all over the ice for team Canada, blasting four goals from the point in the tournament. Both Anthony Cirelli and Mathew Barzal netted three goals for Canada. Captain Dylan Strome finished the tournament tied with Chabot for most points on the team, as he set-up seven goals and scored three himself. The depth in the Canadian roster helped make the gold medal push, something Canada will hope to have again next year.