Canada’s ‘little fireball’ Stankoven burns Switzerland in quarterfinal win

Canada's Will Cuylle (27), Logan Stankoven (10) and Donovan Sebrango (7) celebrate a goal against Switzerland during second period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship quarterfinal action in Edmonton on Wednesday August 17, 2022. (Jason Franson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

EDMONTON — It only took a minute for Logan Stankoven to put his stamp on Canada’s bid to advance in his team’s first elimination game of the 2022 World Junior Championship. Over the next 59, he only got better, causing havoc for the red and white all night as they outlasted a feisty Swiss side en route to a 6-3 win Wednesday at Rogers Place.

The Canadians knew they’d be getting a quick, skilled team in their quarterfinal tilt against Switzerland. The Swiss wound up being even better than they anticipated. But the host side had an answer for the surprising underdogs, who came out swinging from the opening puck-drop: their smooth-skating, slick-handed No. 10.

Hopping over the boards for his first shift of the game, the undersized pivot showed some quick hops, cutting past a defenceman and darting to the middle of the ice before dishing to Tyson Foerster, who made no mistake on Canada’s first shot. A few minutes later, Stankoven was flying through the offensive zone again, a menace in the middle of the ice.

By the end of the first period, he’d added a goal of his own, snagging the puck off a Swiss turnover, ringing a shot off the post, and then beating everyone else to the rebound to put home Canada’s third goal of the night.

“He was just a little fireball out there, I thought,” Canadian defender Ronan Seeley said of Stankoven after the game had wrapped up. “That’s the kind of thing we see in the [WHL], and it came out of him today. It couldn’t have come out at a better time.”

“I could tell from the first shift,” captain Mason McTavish added, breaking down that early play from Stankoven and Foerster. “Whenever you see that, you kind of know a guy’s going that night. And his linemates were also doing the same thing, they were feeding him.”

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For Canada netminder Dylan Garand, who’s spent the past four seasons with Stankoven in Kamloops, B.C., the dominant performance was nothing new.

“Just a classic Stanks game,” the netminder said with a chuckle. “I’ve seen lots of those games.”

It’s yet another emergence for Stankoven, who’s fresh off an MVP-calibre season with the Kamloops Blazers that saw him named CHL Player of the Year. For his part, though, Wednesday’s quarterfinal win felt like a genuine turning point amid a tournament that’s been tougher than expected.

“It’s huge,” he said of being able to put the puck in the net in a Canada sweater, the 19-year-old finishing with two goals after adding an empty-netter by the night’s end. “It’s harder than I thought, that’s for sure. It’s kind of my first real taste, and the goals haven’t come easy. I’ve had the chances, but not as much as I would’ve liked. Tonight I thought I was able to create a few more chances … I thought I had more jump and more confidence in my game.

“I feel like when I’m hanging onto pucks more and not getting rid of the puck right away, that’s when I’m at my best. And I thought tonight was one of my better games, for sure.”

As for the team as a whole, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in a Canadian sweater who’d call Wednesday’s total effort one of the side’s better games. While the hosts had stretches of dominance from the opening period to the third, they also repeatedly let the Swiss back into the tilt.

After Stankoven set up Foerster, there was Switzerland answering a minute later. As Canada put up three more to fly out to a hefty lead in the first, the Swiss got two more of their own, continuing to chip away. It was much the same in the second period, with each team adding one more to their tally, the home side holding onto a two-goal lead the rest of the way until Stankoven eventually gave them some more breathing room with his late empty-netter.

They’ll live to continue the march towards gold, but with tougher opponents looming, there’s surely work to be done to tighten up the squad’s overall game.

“I thought it was choppy,” head coach Dave Cameron said of his team’s performance post-game. “I didn’t think we had as much energy, I didn’t think we executed quick enough, I thought we were bringing pucks back rather than going north, which is what led to our success against the other team.

“It was the dreaded quarterfinal game — you’re playing the team that has absolutely nothing to lose. Give them credit, they came at us, they made it interesting, but we found a way.”

Canada was dealt another bit of adversity during the night as well, as forward Ridly Greig was forced out of the game in the first period after taking an awkward hit and seeming to be in some discomfort afterwards. The Ottawa Senators prospect — who’s been one of Canada’s undeniable best through the tournament so far — did not return for the second or third periods. His coach didn’t offer any more detail on the potential injury post-game, only saying Greig was being evaluated, and the team would have an update Thursday.

Regardless of what changes might need to be made to the lineup, the task at hand will be a simple one: shift focus to Friday’s semifinal, to another elimination game, to tightening up all they can before the next test arrives against Czechia.

“To be in the semis is huge for us,” McTavish said of the opportunity sitting ahead. “We’re just going to take it game by game. There’s only six periods left, hopefully, if everything goes right in the semis. … We’re going to have to definitely put in a lot of work.”

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