Redemption and a gold medal. Team Canada can kill two birds with one stone tonight against Team USA in the final of the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The United States, which hasn’t tasted defeat in the tournament, beat Canada 3-1 on New Year’s Eve during the round robin to take top spot in Group B. They followed that up by squeaking by Switzerland in the quarterfinals and downing Russia in a semifinal shootout Wednesday. Canada rebounded by overcoming deficits against the Czech Republic in the quarters and Sweden in the semis to reach the final.
These two North American hockey powerhouses have met in the gold medal game at this tournament three times. Canada won back in 1997 while the United States came out on top in 2004 and 2010.
The Americans last won gold in 2010 when John Gibson and Rocco Grimaldi led the charge in a 3-1 victory over Sweden. Canada meanwhile is looking to win its second gold in the last three years.
Shutting down Team USA’s attack will be a tall task
Jordan Greenway is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds but his size isn’t the only reason he has stood out at this tournament. The Boston University product has emerged as one of the stars of the tournament and will be a point of focus for the Canadians.
“No one has had an answer for Greenway,” junior hockey insider Sam Cosentino told Sportsnet 590 The Fan Thursday. “He’s been a real eye opener type player for me. He’s just been dynamite. He gets into the corner and the boards and protects the puck but he’s got good vision too.”
Greenway was a one-man wrecking crew against Canada this past Saturday, registering a point on each of the three goals USA put by Connor Ingram. Greenway isn’t the only weapon head coach Bob Motzko can utilize though. Not by any stretch.
Clayton Keller and Colin White have tremendous chemistry and a combined 17 points in six games. Those two, plus Greenway, were named Team USA’s top three players of the tournament. When you add in the likes of Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco, who might be the best playmaker in the tournament, and Troy Terry, who scored thrice in the shootout against Russia in the semifinals, there is no shortage of offence.
Even with the exclusion of Erie Otters star Alex DeBrincat this American roster is equipped with more than enough firepower to take home the gold.
“I totally disagreed with the roster composition that [USA Hockey] used at the World Cup … and on the flipside of that Bob Motzko puts this team together and he’s a skill first type of guy,” Cosentino said. “His teams at St. Cloud [State University] they play fast, they’re smaller, skilled, buzzing around type of style of team and he wanted to build this team around that sort of model.”
Canada still missing big piece on the blue line
When the Canadians were downed by their rivals on Boxing Day they lost more than the game. Standout defenceman Philippe Myers went down with a concussion sustained on a hit from American captain Luke Kunin and the Philadelphia Flyers prospect hasn’t suited up since.
“It’s a situation where you could really use a guy like Philippe Myers,” Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek said. “That big shutdown defender that can spin around and move the puck and get it out of the zone. If the USA comes out victorious in this one that’s the one area you can look at and say, ‘Man, Canada could have really used Myers in this game tonight.’”
With no Myers it means they’ll once again have to lean on Ottawa Senators prospect Thomas Chabot.
“They’re going to need another big 30-minute game from Thomas Chabot who has been the class of Team Canada period,” Marek said. “There has not been one single question about the performance of Thomas Chabot.”
Strome, Hart need to have repeat performances
There were some nervous faces in the Bell Centre after Sweden went up 2-1 early and Connor Ingram was pulled, but none of those faces were on Team Canada’s bench.
Cosentino credits the Canadian coaching staff of Dominique Ducharme, Tim Hunter and Kris Knoblauch for remaining composed after their team got out of the gates slowly against the Swedes.
“So often times you see teams respond the way their coaches are acting and there was no panic in their game,” Cosentino said.
Carter Hart, who replaced Ingram in net, stopped every puck fired his way against Sweden will need to match American netminder Tyler Parsons.
“Carter Hart has to have one of his best games that he has ever played because this American offence is dynamic, can score in bunches, they have four lines that can tuck it away,” Marek added.
Captain Dylan Strome also stepped up on the ice for Canada and put in his most complete game of the tournament.
“When it comes to Dylan Strome he’s pretty consistent in his effort … I would expect a big game from him again tonight,” Cosentino said. “He has a nice balance of puck distribution and the ability to shoot the puck. The one thing he probably doesn’t get credit for in this tournament is his faceoffs. He’s up at around 62-63 per cent in the faceoff circle which is obviously key when everyone talks about playing that puck possession game. He plays in all areas, he wears the ‘C,’ he’s been out there for I think all but one media availability, so it’s not just about the hockey sometimes.”
Cosentino added: “If Canada plays the same type of game [as they did against Sweden] and gets that same type of goaltending from Hart I think they win the gold medal.”