In a world championship that was sometimes coloured by talk of the future, Connor McDavid and Team Canada seized the moment.
The Canadians won their second consecutive world title on Sunday night in Moscow, downing Finland 2-0 in the gold medal final. The only goal of the game that went past a goalie before entering the net came courtesy of McDavid in the first period. From there, goalie Cam Talbot and a relentless Canadian checking game took control until everyone in red and white could finally exhale with Matt Duchene’s buzzer-beating empty-netter.
Canada’s only loss in the event came at the hands of Finland in their final preliminary round game and prior to the final, McDavid had yet to register a goal. Maybe that’s why Mark Scheifele figured his teammate was due.
“I told him before the game, I said, ‘I have a feeling about you,’” Scheifele said. “He said, ‘I don’t know about that.’ He’s an unbelievable player and he was awesome tonight.”
The fact McDavid had failed to find the net before the final contest made it a bit easier to focus on a number of other things throughout the event. American Auston Matthews — the presumptive first overall pick at the NHL draft a month from now — was fantastic, registering six goals in 10 outings.
Finland’s Patrik Laine was even better, netting seven in the same number of games to earn himself tournament MVP honours and provide the Toronto Maple Leafs — holders of that No. 1 draft pick — at least a little something to think about. And Laine’s country, which was trying to pull off an unprecedented IIHF championship triple, garnered lots of praise for the direction of its game.
The Finns won the world junior championship on home soil in January, then claimed the under-18 world championship in Grand Forks, North Dakota last month. Had they downed Team Canada at the men’s tourney, they would have been the first team to win all three IIHF events in the same season.
Instead, it was McDavid and teammate Corey Perry who made history. Perry, Canada’s captain, became the latest member of the triple gold club, having won the 2007 Stanley Cup, top spot at the 2010 and ’14 Olympic Games and now a world championship. The 19-year-old McDavid, meanwhile, became the youngest player to put U-18, world junior and world championship gold on his resume.
The last guy left speaking to a hoard of media after the game, McDavid was his usual level self, even with a gold medal around his neck and confetti of the same colour stuck to various parts of his uniform.
“I think you just saw how well we managed the puck,” McDavid said of a game in which Canada held a decisive possession advantage and outshot the Finns 33-16.
While McDavid and his mates spent the majority of the game controlling the play in different parts of the Finnish zone, his goal came on a mad dash.
Looking to kill some time while his team changed, Canadian defenceman Ryan Ellis hung onto the puck just inside his own blue line before sliding it to McDavid. Having just hopped on the ice with fresh legs, No. 97 burst through the neutral zone and dished to Duchene right before the blue line. When Duchene’s shot attempt was partially blocked, McDavid darted around Mika Pyorala, corralled the puck with his backhand, quickly got on his forehand and roofed it.
The show of speed and determination was pure McDavid, but he was just one of a team full of Canadians who really brought it.
“We’re a close group,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “We’re a young team, we all get along, we all love playing for each other.”
The next time McDavid suits up for an international tournament, he’ll actually be playing against Team Canada as a member of the under-23 North American squad at the World Cup of Hockey in September. As for players who may have helped their cause in cracking the Canadian roster, Taylor Hall had six goals in 10 games and emphasized what his deadly wheels can do. In addition to Hall, Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly tasted victory at the worlds for the second straight spring.
Laine, meanwhile, all but assured himself a spot on Finland’s roster for the next world gathering, where there will be plenty of chatter about the plucky nation’s emergence in the heavyweight division. In addition to Laine, Finland will likely place Jesse Puljujarvi in the top three of this year’s draft, as the nation of roughly five million people is really starting to crank out high-end players.
“They’re doing it right,” said Canadian coach Bill Peters.
On this night, though, Peters’ team did it just a little better.