McDavid lights ’em up
Blowout: Danes expected an onslaught, and Canada didn’t disappoint
There was an unusual — and, it must be said, refreshing — bit of honesty in the way members of the Danish team talked on Friday about their upcoming quarter-final game against Canada.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect who came into the game with four goals in the world junior championship, said the Danes were happy that they had taken both Russia and the Czechs to overtime.
“It’s nice to know that we can stick up there with the good teams,” Bjorkstrand said. Then he allowed that Canada would present a different challenge. They had a lot of really good players, he said. “But we have faith. “We know that if we play well we might be able to win.”
Might? It was pointed out that Canada had lost to Russia in overtime in the pre-tournament games, and the Danes had done the same in a shootout, so that must give them some hope, right?
“We watched that game,” Bjorkstrand said. “Canada probably dominated, but the (Russian) goalie played great and they somehow managed to win. We are hoping to do the same thing.” Then he grinned. Hey, could happen, right?
And then the game started. Sixty minutes later, it was 8-0 Canada. Give the Danes this: they were realists.
“We told ourselves we had to take this game seriously,” Canadian forward Max Domi said after the win. “I think that showed.”
Canada will now face Slovakia in the semifinals Sunday after that country upset the Czech Republic 3-0 on Friday. Canada beat the Slovaks 8-0 when they met in the preliminary round on Dec. 26.
On the first shift, the Canadians charged into the Danish zone, and the Air Canada Centre crowd was going wild and it felt like pucks were just that little bit out of Canada’s reach. After the Danes, with their dangerous top line of Bjorkstrand, Nikolaj Ehlers and Mads Eller, managed a few shots on the opposing goal, Canada surged forward with purpose.
It has become something of a tradition at this tournament: a brief stretch of early uncertain play from the Canadians, and then they find a rhythm and before you know it they are drumming their opponents with a bag of doorknobs.
After three minutes the shots on goal were 4-0 in favour of Denmark. From that point, through the end of the second period, they were 33-5 for the home side.
Canada broke onto the scoreboard 10 minutes into the game on a lovely setup from 17-year-old Connor McDavid, who had the breakout game he keeps insisting he wasn’t looking for. McDavid raced toward the net, almost lost his balance as he continued behind it, but still fed a pass right to the stick of Curtis Lazar, who beat George Sorensen, the besieged Danish goalie.
Earlier, asked if there was one thing the Danes needed to do to hang with Canada, Bjorkstrand responded: “I feel it’s important for us to get the first goal.” If they could just get that first one, he said, maybe they could plug things up and hang on.
So much for that plan. Less than five minutes later, it was Sam Reinhart, finishing off a pass from Anthony Duclair, to put the Canadians up 2-0. Hockey games are never over at 2-0, but it was hard not to think that the Danes would just need a couple of lucky bounces and a bout of food poisoning to rip through the Canadian bench to turn things around at that point.
Regardless, those bounces were not to come and Canada kept its food down. Two minutes into the second period, Lawson Crouse grabbed the puck in the Danish zone after a turnover forced by Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Frederik Gauthier, dragged the puck past a defender and ripped a shot over Sorensen. Two minutes after that, it was McDavid taking the puck at the blue-line and whistling past the Danish defence.
He closed in hard on the Danish goalie, who played him to cut in front of the net. Instead, McDavid stopped dead and tucked the puck inside the near post. In the third period, McDavid gave another demonstration of why he’s the likely top pick in the NHL draft and will never play in this tournament again.
He chased a loose puck, tipped it past a defender, and then backhanded it — on the tape — to Lazar, who dropped it to Brayden Point for Canada’s seventh goal, which mercifully was the end of Sorensen’s night.
“He’s been our best player all tournament,” said Domi of McDavid. “Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight, it did.”
All of which is why, on Friday morning, Danish coach Olaf Eller had said that his team, for all it had accomplished with winning a game at the top tier of this tournament for the first time, and thus making the quarterfinals for the first time, would need some luck — and then some — against the Canadians. They would need great goaltending, Eller said. And that probably wouldn’t be enough, he said.
“It’s amazing,” Ehlers, deemed one of the Danes’ best three players of the tournament, said on Friday morning of having made it to the quarters. “We are just really happy with where we are.”
They will have to remain happy with having made it there.