National Post (Latest Edition)

Gold within reach for Canadian juniors

Home side blanks Russia to gain berth in finals

- Jim Matheson Postmedia News jmatheson@ postmedia. com Twitter: @ jimmatheso­nnhl

At the Montreal Canadiens first camp practice Monday, captain Shea Weber sidled up to Russian rookie defenceman Alexander Romanov while he was riding the bike to see if he wanted to place a friendly bet on the world junior game.

Romanov, who was the Russians’ best player in 2020, kept pedalling.

No wager was made.

“He didn’t seem too confident,” said Weber, the former Canadian junior team defenceman, as related in a tweet by TSN’S John Lu. Smart kid. Saved some money. Even without what would have been Canada’s top premier forwards — 2020 No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafrenière, who is at New York Rangers camp, and Kirby Dach, who broke his wrist in a pre- tournament exhibition when he checked Ilya Safonov — the ridiculous­ly deep team scored early and often on Nashville’s first- round pick Yaroslav Askarov as they whipped Igor Larionov’s team 5- 0.

In the spirited world junior series with their longtime rival, Canada is now 20-20-2 with one suspended game in the wild brawl in Piestany, Czech Republic, in 1987. Canada, which always has a good team when the NHL isn’t playing through lockouts or pandemics, had pretty much everything going for them, on the ice and in the video booth — coach André Tourigny challenged a power-play goal by Mikhail Abramov that would have made it 4-1 late in the second period for an offside play by defenceman Semyon Chistyakov.

They won that call on what appeared to be a weak decision; Chistyakov appeared to have dragged his toe across the blue line as the puck went in and when it was wiped out, the look on Larionov’s face was a “you kidding me?”

In the game’s first minute, Alex Newhook, who missed two games with a suspected sore shoulder, beat Askarov on the game’s first shot on a play that went on another 29 seconds before a stoppage a horn blown from video command. That clearly showed the puck had nestled under the iron and out at the 59- second mark.

“The training staff did a great job to get me ready,” said Newhook, who played five minutes in the first period but was down to 3 ½ minutes in the second. “I had no idea it was in ... thought I’d hit the crossbar but then I heard the horn. Somebody on the bench said he thought it was in, then I saw it on the scoreboard.”

Then Connor Mcmichael who started a comeback against Russia in the 2020 final when a puck went in off his heel in the third period, tapped one home after outmusclin­g Yan Kuznetsov, who goes to the University of Connecticu­t. Cole Perfetti finished the 3- 0 first period when he beat Askarov, sailing a puck past his right glove on a power play with Russian captain Vasily Podkolzin in the penalty box for swiping his stick into the face of Bowen Byram.

Braden Schneider beat Askarov, who got pulled in last year’s 4- 3 gold medal victory, in exactly the same spot early in the second to make it 4- 0, but Larionov didn’t go to his bullpen for Leafs draftee Artur Akhtyamov.

Canadian goalie Devon Levi, who came into the game only beaten three times in five full games, caught a break on Abramov’s goal, but the unsung kid who played Junior A last year before heading off to Northeaste­rn University in Boston clearly outplayed the hyped Askarov.

Levi goes through a three- hour pre- game preparatio­n to get himself dialed in for the task ahead and it’s worked wonders in the tournament.

“He’s on his own page ... he’s got his headphones on even during intermissi­on ... and the way he’s playing he can whatever he wants as long as he’s stopping pucks,” said Dylan Cozens, who got an empty- netter and had two assists to give him 16 points in Canada’s six games.

“I don’t see him much, I don’t know where he goes ... I only see him when he gets to the ice,” said Byram, the tournament’s best defenceman.

The teams were on equal footing only at the first faceoff. After that, it turned into an unexpected rout after last year’s stirring Canadian third- period comeback in the final in Ostrava in the Czech Republic. The game started at 2 a. m. in Moscow and by 3 in the morning, millions of fans might have gone back to bed.

“They’re going to be hungry. They’re going to come out with an extra gear. We have to watch that,” said Cozens before the blowout.

“There will be some nerves for sure but you have to channel that into excitement and energy,” said Cozens.

And so Canada continues its march to the gold in a strange tournament where Germany has had the most goals against them in a game ( two). And the understaff­ed, COVID- quarantine­d Germans lost by 14 to start the tournament.

There will be some nerves ... but you have to channel that.

❚ This ’ n’ that: Cozens, who has eight goals, was awarded a penalty shot in the last minute of the middle frame on a breakaway. He tried to deke and the puck went wide, a right- handed shooter on a right- hander goalie — tough circumstan­ce ... Russian goalie coach Nikolai Khabibulin’s father passed away and the former Oiler/ Coyotes goalie left just before the tournament ... The Russians had Columbus 2020 first- round winger Yegor Chinakhov, who might be rookie of the year in the Kontinenta­l Hockey League, back after missing two games with a possible knee injury. Suspended forward Abramov also returned.

 ?? Greg Southam / postmedia news ?? Connor Mcmichael scores on Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov in Canada’s win Monday night. Canada will face the
winner of Monday night’s other semifinal between the U. S. and Finland in Tuesday’s gold-medal game.
Greg Southam / postmedia news Connor Mcmichael scores on Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov in Canada’s win Monday night. Canada will face the winner of Monday night’s other semifinal between the U. S. and Finland in Tuesday’s gold-medal game.

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