World Junior Takeaways: Canada earns big win with banged up defence

Backup goaltender Colton Point made 20 saves and earned a shutout as Canada blanked Slovakia 6-0 Wednesday.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — With 152 points in 96 games over the past two seasons, Jordan Kyrou has made quite an impression on Sarnia Sting fans. Wednesday night, playing for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship, he made an impression on the rest of the country as well.

Early in the second period of Canada’s 6-0 rout of Slovakia, Kyrou wound through the offensive zone on a power play and absolutely victimized Slovakian forward Erik Smolka, stickhandling around his foe’s feet before wiring home Canada’s second goal of the game. On the bench, Canadian forward Jonah Gadjovich leapt to his feet.

“I don’t even know how he did it,” Gadjovich said of Kyrou’s dangle. “He’s a tough player to play against. He makes one move and you think you know what he’s going to do next. But you really have no idea.”

That’s the kind of excited mood the Canadians were in after dismantling Slovakia Wednesday to move to 2-0 in the tournament. Gadjovich scored twice and was named Canada’s player of the game, but the story of this victory was another comprehensive offensive effort that saw contributions up and down the lineup.

“I think that we’ve gotten better every period. We’re doing well at building our game,” Gadjovich said. “I think [Tuesday vs. Finland] we were all just a little bit nervous. It was the first game of the tournament. Now that we’re settled in, I think that guys are feeling more comfortable making plays and just adjusting to their line mates.”

Here are some takeaways from Canada’s second game of the tournament.

An overwhelming attack

Canada was clearly a step ahead of Slovakia from the onset and got off to a quick start as Sam Steel scored just three minutes into the game. A Conor Timmins point shot was blocked and took a perfect bounce onto the blade of Steel’s stick before he buried it into a gaping net.

But that was the only goal scored in the first as Slovakian goaltender David Hrenak came up with a number of big saves to keep his team in it. Canada certainly had its opportunities, outshooting Slovakia 15-6 in the frame. But goals didn’t come easily, as a Taylor Raddysh tally was disallowed due to a late offside call and Brett Howden rang a hard shot off the post on a breakaway.

The second period was a much different story. Kyrou potted his goal less than two minutes in on a power play, and a third came minutes later when Cale Makar kept a Slovakian clearing attempt in the zone and threw the puck on net, where Gadjovich shovelled in a big rebound.

Raddysh put another rebound past Hrenak later in the second as Canada got whatever it wanted on a man advantage. Maxime Comtois added a fifth goal with a nifty backhander late in the third before Gadjovich potted his second of the night moments later.

In all, Canada outshot the overwhelmed Slovakians 52-20 and dominated possession throughout.

“We liked our game. I thought we were consistent on the things we want to do, and our style of play and our details in our game,” Canada head coach Dominique Ducharme said. “I thought we were consistent for 60 minutes.”

A physical affair and a hurting defence

Averaging a little over 6-foot-1 and a little under 192 pounds, Slovakia is the tournament’s largest team, and they gave Canada its stiffest physical test thus far during a rough and tumble first period.

There were plenty of heavy collisions, but the most damaging came late in the first, when Canadian defenceman Jake Bean and Slovakian forward Marian Studenic got tangled up chasing after a loose puck behind the net before crashing loudly into the boards.

Studenic caught Bean’s skate in the face and skated back to his bench bleeding and clutching his jaw. Meanwhile, Bean remained down on the ice for more than a minute before skating slowly off.

“Scary moment,” Ducharme said. “The way he fell, it’s tough to know at that point what’s happening.”

Bean returned midway through the second and played the rest of the game, which had to be a relief considering Canada was already missing Kale Clague from its blue line.

Clague skated off gingerly after blocking a shot with his right foot against Finland Tuesday night, and was out of the lineup entirely on Wednesday, as Ducharme went with only six defencemen.

Cale Makar, who served as Canada’s seventh defenceman against Finland, took over the majority of Clague’s minutes and saw 25:12 of ice time. Meanwhile, Conor Timmins was added to Canada’s power play rotation, where Clague played a crucial point man role Tuesday night.

“Obviously, it was a little tough going down to four or five defencemen at one point just because of unfortunate circumstances. But we’re telling everybody you’ve just got to weather the storm and get the pucks to the forwards to move the puck up the ice,” Makar said. “We need to be able to be relied on by the forwards and the goalie to go back on pucks and move it up quickly.”

Close attention will have to be paid to the Canadian defence going forward, with Clague and Bean both banged up, and Dante Fabbro playing on a minutes restriction Wednesday (he saw only 5:18 of ice time and didn’t play at all in the third period) after receiving medical clearance to join Canada for this tournament at the very last minute.

Ducharme said “everyone’s day-to-day” and that he’s expecting Clague to return for Canada’s game against the United States on Friday.

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Keeping it clean

Discipline was a major focus of Canada’s video session Wednesday morning, when Ducharme took his team through the six penalties it committed against Finland the night prior. Ducharme has challenged his team to limit its infractions to three or less per game, and has encouraged his players to keep moving their feet and get into the bodies of opponents instead of falling behind and reaching with their sticks.

Wednesday night was certainly an improvement, as Canada went to the box only twice. And neither penalty led to any damage as Slovakia barely threatened against Canada’s smothering penalty kill.

“I think that’s something that we’re going to have to continue to get better at,” Gadjovich said. “Obviously, we don’t want to take a lot of penalties. There’s super skilled teams here. And lots of skilled players that can make plays when they’re given space on the power play. If we can continue to take less penalties, then we’ll have success.”

Point strong between the pipes

After Carter Hart made 31 saves in a strong effort against Finland the night prior, Ducharme turned to his backup goaltender, Colton Point, to make the start against Slovakia. All Point did was stop every shot the Slovakians threw at him on his way to a 20-save shutout.

“He was solid — you can’t ask for more,” Ducharme said. “Every time he had a shot he looked in control.”

Point is having a fine season for Colgate University with a .938 save percentage and 1.90 goals-against average over 16 games this season. Hart is Canada’s clear first option, but Point provides a steady hand for games like this, which should help Ducharme keep Hart fresh throughout the tournament.

Point didn’t get much work through the first half of the game, as Canada controlled possession and kept the puck pinned in Slovakia’s zone. But when Canada’s energy lapsed late in the second and early in the third, Point had to come up with some key saves, which was no problem for the North Bay native.

“There wasn’t many high-danger shots,” Point said. “But a shot’s still a shot. You’ve got to treat them all equally. So, I felt I made the saves I needed to.”

Look for Hart to be back between the pipes when Canada takes on the USA outdoors at New Era Field on Friday. Point, meanwhile, will just try to stay warm.

“Find a heater, stay near it,” Point said. “And hopefully find some gloves, too.”

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