Team Canada falls short in gold medal game in World Juniors hockey tournament
By Brendan Makay, Contributor
The 2021 World Junior Hockey Championships looked a little different this year due to COVID-19. The tournament was hosted in a bubble in Edmonton, Alta, similar to the bubble used by the NHL for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The World Juniors are one of the most exciting tournaments in all of hockey as it pits the best juniors from all over the world against one another, representing their country.
Canada’s World Junior tournament started out bittersweet. During their 1-0 victory against the Russians, in what was their first and only exhibition game, their newly named captain Kirby Dach sustained a hand injury that will sideline him 4-5 months.
After getting their exhibition game out of the way, Canada started the real action off with a bang. They routed a short-handed German roster 16-2. Dylan Cozens finished the game with three goals and three assists, while teammate Dawson Mercer finished with two goals and two assists. Even with the many goals from Canada, the German players Florian Elias and top prospect Tim Stuelze gave a considerably good game given their team’s circumstances. Some of the German rosters could not suit-up for the game after testing positive for COVID-19, setting the team up for the blowout loss.
The next day, Team Canada had a game that was a little too close for comfort. They defeated Team Slovakia 3-1. Phil Tomasino was the only player to come away with a multipoint night with one goal and one assist.
After a day off, Canada was back in action on Dec, 29, securing a third straight win over Switzerland. Quinton Byfield took his turn to lead Canada in points with two goals and four assists.
Canada’s final game of the round-robin stage was supposed to bring a good test for the Canadians as they were matched up with Finland. But the game did not even come close with Canada rather easily securing a 4-1 win. Cozens was the star once again, scoring two goals with the team’s effort.
In the playoff rounds, Canada played the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals and skated to a 3-0 victory. Cozens led the team again in points with two; this time a goal and an assist. Up to this point in the tournament, Canada had yet to be challenged as they had not even given up an even-strength goal.
This was all expected to change when the Canadians met the Russians in the semi-finals. However, the game did not live up to the hype as they won rather decidedly, 5-0. Cozens for the third game in a row had the most points for Canada as he came away with one goal and two assists.
This all led to the gold medal game against the USA who beat Finland in their semi-final matchup and came first in their pool. Canada was challenged as they couldn’t overcome their southern neighbours, leaving the U.S. to win the game 2-0 and the gold medal. The US pushed the play with top pointer Trevor Zegras and Alex Turcotte having long runs of offensive pressure.
In the end, Canada finished its run with silver. Canada’s top three players of the tournament were selected by the coaches with forward and co-captain Cozens (Whitehorse, Yukon), defensemen and the other co-captain Bowen Byram (Cranbrook, B.C.), and Goalie Devon Levi (Montreal, Que). Cozens remarkably became the fifth-highest scorer in Canadian history for a single tournament with 16 points, falling short of the top spot by 2 points.
In Calgary news, a few Flames stood out during the tournament. Defenseman Yan Kuznetsov played a great game for the Russians and showed that for a fairly large man, he possessed impressive mobility. Team Canada also had two great showings from Flames prospects. Jakob Pelletier worked his way up to the first line with his great speed and tenacious forechecking. He also showed his great leadership throughout the tournament and showed why he has been a captain for two different Quebec Major Junior Hockey League teams. Connor Zary, another Flames prospect showed a fiery personality and competence.
Team Dismissal Debacle
Due to some early blowouts, this year’s tournament saw a debate start through fans and the media. People have voiced that traditionally weaker teams should not be allowed to participate to increase the level of competition. The argument was that fewer teams in the tournament would get rid of boring blowouts and make what is already an exciting tournament even better.
Taking away teams is a short-sighted view and would make the tournament worse.
The World Juniors is about deciding who has the best under 20 hockey players in the world, but it is also used to grow the game. If we start taking away teams from the tournament then we are negatively impacting the growth of hockey in some of the “weaker” countries.
There are kids in all these small countries like Austria, Switzerland, among others, that are falling in love with the game by watching their national teams play against the great traditional powerhouse countries.
The tournament is not only for the fans but also for the kids who get the chance to wear their countries’ flag on their jerseys and represent their country on the national stage.
If we do not let these smaller countries play in the tournament then we will forever take away the chance for there to be a big upset or to see a smaller country make a dream run to win a medal. If ever a historic win like that would happen, sitting through a few lopsided games over the years would be worth it.