Behind the marquee names, Ridly Greig is Canada’s pivotal heart-and-soul leader

Senators prospect Ridly Greig scored the pretty one-handed goal in Canada’s first game vs. Latvia, and his teammates reacted to what they saw after the game.

EDMONTON — As it always goes, it’s been the marquee names who’ve made the most noise at the 2022 World Junior Championship. Canada’s four games at the tournament have run like a four-episode arc of the Connor Bedard snipe show, like a hype video for Mason McTavish’s impending jump to life as an everyday NHLer.

But behind the Canadians’ two leading scorers, there’s another heart-and-soul leader who’s been pivotal in preserving the red and white’s undefeated streak: Ridly Greig.

The Ottawa Senators prospect has given Canada a little bit of everything through four sterling showings at Rogers Place, just five hours from where he grew up in Lethbridge, Alta. He made his presence known in dazzling fashion from the Canadians’ first game of the tournament, coming up with a one-handed beauty against Latvia, before going on to collect three goals and six points through the preliminary round.

In Canada’s prelim finale versus Finland, though, the toughest opponent his team has faced yet, Greig truly proved his worth.

It only took about a minute for the 5,000 in attendance Monday to rain some cheers down on the 20-year-old. As the Finns got off to a strong start, hemming Canada in its own zone for a lengthy stretch, it was Greig who pushed back early — throwing out some stiff checks, battling along the walls, trying to pull his team back.

When the rest of his mates caught up to him and righted the ship, putting an early goal on the board, Greig didn’t sit back. He kept pushing, kept working, kept punishing Canada’s opponents for each and every mistake. The finest play of his night came on Finland’s first penalty, midway through the game’s first period, when Canada’s second unit came on to replace the stymied first group.

After seeing Finland withstand the crisp passes and threatening shots from his team’s top man-advantage crew, Greig took a different approach. Spotting an opening, he bulldozed forward and beelined to the net, weaving through defenders and eventually shovelling the puck to Tyson Foerster while getting thrown to the ice, the latter tapping in the rebound.

A goal forged from pure will and determination.

“He’s unreal,” Foerster said of Greig later Monday, following the eventual win over Finland. “His work ethic is insane. His heart. He blocks shots, backchecks, scores goals. He does it all.”

For Greig, plays like that one are a matter of just keeping things simple, of acting on instinct.

“I got the puck and I had good speed, so I found a seam there — it was bouncing around like crazy, and I just tried to get it on net,” he said of his setup for Foerster, a sequence that’s emblematic of the way the Brandon Wheat Kings captain approaches the game, and of how he views this Canadian squad in general.

“I think we’re a pretty fast and tough team to play against. I think it’s no easy game against us,” Greig said. “Whenever we’re moving our feet and moving the puck quick as we can, it’s pretty hard to play against.”

The Canadians proved that on Monday night, withstanding a talented Finnish side to earn their fourth-straight dominant win. Greig’s fingerprints were all over it, even after that sterling play in the first.

In the second period, that straight-ahead mindset got him a goal of his own, Greig winning an offensive-zone faceoff by outmuscling his opposing centre, and then crashing towards the net to bury a rebound from an Olen Zellweger point shot.

It wound up as the game-winner, the Finns making a late push to collect a couple more goals, Greig’s tally leaving them still one short.

“Greig’s been outstanding in this tournament,” head coach Dave Cameron said of the centreman Monday. “With two guys, Josh (Roy) and Will (Dufour) — pretty good players, and heavy. I think it’s a good combination of heaviness, good sticks, and hockey IQ.”

Teammate Brennan Othmann agreed.

“You notice him all the time,” the winger said of Greig. “He hits hard, he can score, he can skate. I think, personally, he’s an all-around package. … We’re super, super lucky that he’s Canadian, and on our side.”

The fine showing is surely music to Senators’ fans ears, as they eagerly await the big-league arrival of Greig, drafted 28th overall by the Sens back in 2020. More convincing for the Senators brass watching on from afar might not be what Greig did in the opening two periods of Canada’s eventual 6-3 win, though, but what he did in the final frame.

It was during those last 20 minutes that Canada nearly saw two periods of work undone by a seemingly endless march to the penalty box, the red and white committing five infractions, gifting Finland some extended five-on-three time and a five-minute power play to try and score their way back to the surface.

They managed only one goal, Canada’s lead holding strong — due in no small part to Greig, who put it all on the line, stepping in front of as many shots as he could to keep the penalty kill going.

“That was unreal,” Bedard said of his mate’s PK sacrifice. “That just shows the heart of our team.” Added captain McTavish: “That’s where you get so much respect from your team, blocking shots and battling so hard for your team to win.”

In Greig’s eyes, it’s just what had to be done, simply part of the role he’s here to play — a hard-nosed complement to the slick, high-end skill Canada has higher up in the lineup.

“A little banged up, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?” he said off the ice at Rogers Place once the game had wrapped, still feeling the effects of those shot-blocks. “Obviously we got into some penalty trouble there, went on a five-on-three. You know, whatever it takes to win, whatever it takes to do anything for the boys… if it’s standing in front of a slapshot, I’m going to do it.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.