Edmonton Journal

Competitio­n heats up for juniors.

Competitio­n gets real after easy victories


MONTREAL — Monday marks four weeks to the day since the beginning of this world junior experience for the 23 players on the Canadian roster.

And yet, the real tournament begins now. Canada has won two games, both convincing­ly, minus one period where they couldn’t break through Germany’s clogged-up defensive line. They have scored 12 goals and have started two goaltender­s who are each sporting a save percentage of 100 per cent. There are very few nits to pick.

But these were also teams, Slovakia and Germany, that Canada was supposed to beat. On Monday at the Bell Centre they will face defending-champion Finland, at least to the extent that any team is really the defending champion in a tournament that includes so much roster turnover.

Finland is a capable team that beat Canada in the semifinals last year. It is a goalie factory. And, with two losses so far, it is desperate.

“We have to be ready to play a very solid team,” Canadian coach Benoit Groulx said Sunday. He said the same thing before about Slovakia and Germany, of course. It’s just that this time, he means it.

After Canada scored two goals in the third period to put Germany away 4-0 on Saturday, Groulx had said he hoped the shaky second period had been a good learning experience.

“I think we thought the game was over,” he said. “We have our way to play, and we want to play that way for 60 minutes.”

So what is their way to play? In their five good periods, the Canadians have displayed speed, skill and depth in almost equal measure. Robby Fabbri, the Mississaug­a native who plays for Guelph in the Ontario Hockey League, had two goals and two assists against Slovakia, but was blanked the following night against Germany. Connor McDavid, the Erie Otters star who has been the presumptiv­e first pick in the 2015 NHL draft since he was in short pants, had a goal and two assists against Germany after going scoreless in the opener. Nic Petan, the smallish centre from Delta, B.C., and the Portland Winterhawk­s, has six points in two games. West Vancouver’s Sam Reinhart, who plays for the Kootenay Ice, has managed a highlightr­eel assist in each game. On Friday, he took a pass from Petan on the rush and deftly flipped the puck to Fabbri for an easy goal. On Saturday, facing two German defenders in front of the net, he slipped a no-look backhand pass to Max Domi, standing alone at the side of the crease, who directed the puck into the net in the hockey equivalent of an alley-oop.

“That was a gift,” Domi said Sunday. “I guess Christmas came a couple of days late. But it was nice to tap that in.”

The team even has depth of personalit­y. Domi has been a terror, backchecki­ng aggressive­ly, scoring each game and celebratin­g with tongue wagging out and hands in the air

“He’s a crazy kid,” captain Curtis Lazar said of the son of former NHLer Tie Domi. “He works hard to give himself a reason to stick that thing out there. He’s a feisty bugger, too. I think he gets that from his dad.”

Lazar, meanwhile, is always grinning, even while complainin­g about going scoreless against Slovakia.

“I’m always a happy-golucky guy,” he said. “I try to live in the moment.”

Asked why he carries himself that way, the captain gave a fine answer. It’s been his dream to compete at things like the Memorial Cup and the world juniors, and to play in the NHL, he said. “To achieve those things,” Lazar said, “why not smile and enjoy it?”

The emotions of Domi and Lazar are in contrast to those of McDavid, who was so softspoken after his three-point breakout that you could be excused for assuming he had been benched. It didn’t matter that he had finally scored, he said: “Winning is all that matters.”

His teammates say they try to crack McDavid’s stone mug, with little success.

“Connor’s pretty serious,” Jake Virtanen said.

“You have to work a little bit to get a smile on his face,” Darnell Nurse said.

“I tell him to relax and enjoy himself,” Lazar said. So far, that advice hasn’t exactly taken.

Groulx said he knows McDavid is under particular pressure, not just because of the upcoming draft but also because this tournament marks his return to play after missing six weeks with a broken hand.

“You play to win, but sometimes you are thinking too much,” he said.

Both his coach and his teammates said what McDavid would not: that scoring would help ease that pressure, at least a bit.

That could spell trouble for Finland, although it’s a team that has played giantkille­r before. Groulx said the Canadians wouldn’t spend much time reliving last year’s 5-1 pasting on the way to a fourth-place finish.

“We have a different team, they have a different team,” Groulx said. “We don’t want to look back, we want to play in the now.”

And now, we will find out if his team is as good as the early returns. Postmedia News

MONTREAL — The questions weren’t even finished before Benoit Groulx was shaking his head.

Was he worried about Connor McDavid, held scoreless through two exhibition games and the opening blowout over Slovakia? How about captain Curtis Lazar, who joined the phenom’s line late when he arrived on loan from the Ottawa Senators? He hadn’t scored either.

“To be honest,” the Canadian head coach said before his team faced Germany on Saturday night, “I’m not that concerned.

“If we’re being honest, (McDavid) should have at least a goal a game. It’s only a matter of time for them.”

Four minutes and 11 seconds, to be exact.

It took just that long for McDavid, the Erie Otters star from Newmarket, Ont., and presumptiv­e first overall pick in next spring’s NHL draft, to walk out from the corner on the power play, snap a shot that was saved by German goalie Kevin Reich, and then tip in a rebound to give Canada a lead it would not surrender.

Drought over. McDavid celebrated with a fist pump and then thumped his right hand into the glass, which was probably not the wisest way to cheer since that hand was recently broken.

About seven minutes later, on the power play again, McDavid found Lazar in front of the net with a pass from the corner. The captain whistled a shot past Reich. Drought over.

After the game, the two players couldn’t have responded more differentl­y.

“It doesn’t matter,” McDavid said quietly about finally putting points on the board. “Winning is all that matters.”

Lazar, meanwhile, was beaming. “It feels a lot better than yesterday,” he said. “I was pretty sour after that first game ... and it was nice to contribute.”

The former Edmonton Oil King even poked a little fun at his stern-faced linemate. “After that first goal, he was still quite serious,” Lazar said. “I told him to relax and smile a little.”

He grinned, too, when asked about McDavid’s fistin-the-glass celebratio­n. “I guess he was showing that his hand was OK,” he said.

Coming into the game, Canada wanted to get McDavid and Lazar going and Groulx also wanted to see a little more from the power play, which should be deadly but had been flat in the early stages of the tournament. So, by the game’s 13th minute they had accomplish­ed all those goals. Unfortunat­ely for the Canadians, they proceeded to play for a long stretch as if there really was nothing left to accomplish. Germany outshot Canada 10-6 in the second period, and if not for an Eric Comrie save on a Marc Michaelis breakaway shot, the Germans might have entered the third period only down one goal.

Forward Nic Petan, who had three assists on the night, said the Germans “sat back a little bit” in the second period, keeping three players deep and clogging up the neutral zone.

The Canadians roared out for the third — Petan said they focused on chipping pucks past the German roadblocks in the middle of the ice — and put the game away on a ridiculous no-look backhand pass from Sam Reinhart at the left circle to Max Domi at the corner of the net. The London Knights forward and Arizona Coyotes draftee converted easily.

By the time Madison Bowey scored another power play goal on assists from Petan and McDavid, the only question was whether the Germans would ever have another scoring chance.

With Canada having buttoned down their defence, the Germans managed only three shots in the final frame.

Like the opening game against Slovakia, Canada carried far more firepower into this match. None of the Germans had been drafted by an NHL club, while the entire Canadian lineup had been — save for McDavid and Lawson Crouse, both of whom are too young to have been drafted yet.

Only one German plays in the Canadian Hockey League, the best junior league in the world, while the only Canadians who don’t play in the CHL are those like Lazar and Anthony Duclair who play in the National Hockey League.

But despite the tense middle moments, Canada ultimately got what it needed, and got one of its big scoring lines on track.

Robby Fabbri, who had four points in the opener against Slovakia and none against Germany, had said earlier Saturday that he didn’t expect his high-powered teammates to be held scoreless for long.

“Everyone knows that the big story of this tournament is McDavid and (Jack) Eichel,” Fabbri said. “When you have a game like had (against Slovakia) with all those chances and nothing goes in, it’s frustratin­g.”

“But he’s such a special player, he plays great every night.”

A few hours later, McDavid proved him right.

 ?? PAUL CHIASSON/ THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Germany goaltender Kevin Reich makes a save off Team Canada’s Max Domi Saturday in Montreal.
PAUL CHIASSON/ THE CANADIAN PRESS Germany goaltender Kevin Reich makes a save off Team Canada’s Max Domi Saturday in Montreal.
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 ?? PAUL CHIASSON/ THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Team Canada’s Connor McDavid breaks away from Team Germany’s Fabio Wagner and tries to score past goaltender Kevin Reich at the IIHF World Junior Championsh­ip Saturday in Montreal. McDavid’s early goal helped Canada to a 4-0 win.
PAUL CHIASSON/ THE CANADIAN PRESS Team Canada’s Connor McDavid breaks away from Team Germany’s Fabio Wagner and tries to score past goaltender Kevin Reich at the IIHF World Junior Championsh­ip Saturday in Montreal. McDavid’s early goal helped Canada to a 4-0 win.

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