This year’s edition of Team Canada competing at the 2015 World Junior Championship was built to dominate. And that is exactly how this collection of top juniors went about writing their script over the course of the 11-day tournament played in both Toronto and Montreal.
A recent run of unsuccessful appearances was also a motivating factor as, by Canadian standards, anything less than a gold medal is generally greeted with some dismay. Team Canada last collected a WJC title in 2009, but the long wait for hockey fans in the Great White North finally came to an end on January 5th when Canada edged Team Russia by a score of 5-4.
Canada’s roster consisted of high-end, offensively skilled players, and the group as a whole produced a collectively dynamic performance throughout the tournament. In fact, the team never trailed in a game, nor was it ever tied, during its undefeated run to the championship. After Canada completed preliminary round play in Montreal, the ledger confirmed the group had outscored its opponents, 21-4.
Slovakia offered little resistance in the opening game as Canada won 8-0. A day later, a 4-0 victory over Germany set the table for a much anticipated tilt against Finland, the defending champions. Canada would dispatch the Finns by a 4-1 count. On New Year’s Eve, Canada held on for a 5-3 decision over Team USA in a game that was certainly not as close as the score might indicate.
Due in part to a handful of upsets in the preliminary round, the Canadians earned what was clearly the easiest route to the championship game. In the quarterfinals, they dispatched Denmark, 8-0, before humbling a game Slovakian team by a score of 5-1.
Early on in the tournament, the forward trio of Sam Reinhart (BUF), Max Domi (ARZ) and Anthony Duclair (NYR) established itself as the team’s best forward unit, imposing consistent offensive push and keeping each opponent on their collective heels. The top line cashed in early and often, producing 14 goals and 15 assists during the tournament, with Reinhart leading the way with 11 points.
Following this high-octane forward line was Curtis Lazar (OTT) and Connor McDavid (2015), along with a variety of effective, interchangeable wingers that were all clearly capable of contributing on the score sheet. It was perhaps Nic Petan (WPG) who achieved the most success as he scored four times, including a hat-trick in the semi-final against Slovakia, and also added seven assists during the tournament. McDavid, who started slowly then gradually improved as the tournament progressed, finished with three goals and eight helpers. Lazar was efficient throughout, collecting nine points and adding important leadership after arriving late to the team when the Ottawa Senators agreed to loan him to Team Canada.
Nick Ritchie (ANA), Robbi Fabbri (STL), Jake Virtanen (VAN) and Brayden Point (TB) each took a spin with Lazar and McDavid, but clearly, behind the initial top six came a collection of highly talented forwards in their own right. It was this depth that set Team Canada apart from the other nine teams at this WJC, depth and skill that enabled them to produce a consistent up-tempo barrage in the attacking zone.
The supporting cast up front also included Fredrik Gauthier (TOR), who became a reliable face-off man; Nick Paul (OTT), who produced depth scoring; and Lawson Crouse (2015) was plenty good enough to ensure his name will be called in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. If there is anything potentially negative, the injury suffered by Fabbri, a high ankle sprain, early in the medal round game against Denmark ended his tournament.
On the back end, the cumulative skill set contributed to the offensive onslaught.
Josh Morrissey (WPG) and Madison Bowey (WSH) were paired for most of the tournament and contributed on specialty teams throughout. The pair will return to the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL where it is expected that they will anchor things through a lengthy post-season run. Darnell Nurse (EDM) was outstanding, imposing his will and size in the defending zone while picking his spots to carry the puck deep into the attacking zone. Shea Theodore (ANA) was efficient at both ends of the ice and the diminutive Joe Hicketts (DET) was solid throughout.
Team Canada did indeed get what they deserved this time around, the gold medal. With the benefit of hindsight, the issue was really never in doubt.
MVP: Curtis Lazar. His all-around effort and accumulation of intangible qualities earned him the “C” almost immediately upon his arrival at the selection camp. The epitome of a “lead by example” teammate, Lazar emerged battered and bruised on a few occasions. Off the ice, his level of comfort and eloquence amid the consistently invasive and prying media throngs was exemplary.
Top Defenseman: Darnell Nurse. With all of the offensive skill up front and its commitment to push deep into the attacking zone, the blueline brigade was often faced with defending opponents due to these risk/reward efforts. Nurse played perhaps his best hockey in the medal round, standing strong and tall in the defending zone. An efficient mover of the puck, he proved eminently capable of head-manning the puck with crisp passes to jump-start the offense.
Top Goalie: Zach Fucale. Team Canada rotated goalies Zach Fucale (MTL) and Eric Comrie (WPG) in the preliminary round, but it was Fucale who shouldered the load in the medal round. He was an upbeat teammate throughout and managed to avoid giving up the kind of questionable goals that have plagued Canada at this tournament in recent years. He was especially good in the third period of the gold medal game after Russia had turned a 5-1 second period deficit into a one-goal margin as the teams headed into the final frame.
Top Forward(s): Sam Reinhart and Max Domi. To single out just one player would be unfair, in fact we’re perhaps tight-roping it by only naming two. But Reinhart and Domi established chemistry from the outset, despite markedly different styles of play. Domi is rambunctious and demonstrative, not hesitant to push creatively in the attacking zone. Reinhart appears calm and cool, content to rely on keen vision and an inherent ability to locate open ice. Both moved the puck with precision and both were also effective when it came time to pull the trigger.
Unsung Hero: Brayden Point. Initially pegged as Team Canada’s 13th forward, Point proved to be efficient in every role the coaching staff asked him to fill. He fit in well with Lazar and McDavid when asked to do so, and maintained his drive and tenacity when playing important minutes in a depth role. The diminutive forward tallied twice and added two assists at the tournament, but it was Point’s versatility that confirmed his standing as an elite teammate and prospect.
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