For the second straight year, Canada will play for gold at the World Junior Hockey Championships. Team Canada heads into this game having not suffered a single loss at this year’s tournament and if we’re being honest, no team has come close to beating them.
They haven’t been playing perfect hockey by any means, but they’ve made it all the way to the gold medal game without surrendering an even-strength goal. Dominant is really the only way to describe the 2021 version of Team Canada.
Before we look into tonight’s matchup, let’s look back at last night. The semi-final victory over Russia was both the most impressive win of the tournament and the most surprising. The way they dominated Russia right from the start of this game truly blew me away.
I knew Canada was good and when you as many first-round picks on your roster that this team does, it’s hardly shocking when they take over games, but the Russians just weren’t even close to being able to keep up with the Canadians in the first period.
I give a lot of credit to Canada for not really taking their foot off the gas as well. The game eventually tightened up, but that was simply because Russia woke up a little bit. Canada didn’t change the way they were playing at all.
A big reason why Canada has been able to continually dominate their opposition is the play of Devon Levi, who comes into this game riding a shutout streak that is almost 135 minutes long. He’s been absolutely remarkable between the pipes for Canada, only allowing three goals in six games.
It honestly looks like he’s covered in glue when he’s in net. Every shot that hits him, sticks right onto his gear. I can’t recall a moment when he’s let out a bad rebound or looked uncomfortable in the crease.
Tonight will mark the 18th time that Team Canada has made the gold-medal game since the World Juniors changed to that format back in 1996. In that time, they’ve met the USA four times in the championship game. The USA has dominated these matchups though, winning the last three gold-medal meetings between the two rivals.
Canada is definitely the favourite tonight and it’s hard to argue that. The only game that they didn’t win by more than two goals was their round-robin matchup against Slovakia. Their star power up front combined with the depth of their forward core and the puck-moving ability of their d-core is unmatched at this tournament.
But, when Canada plays the USA at this tournament, crazy things usually happen. Tonight could become an instant classic.
This American team is very, very talented. Trevor Zegras is having a historic tournament and he’s surrounded by skilled forwards like Cole Caufield, Arthur Kaliyev, Alex Turcotte, and Matthew Boldy. They have eight forward with at least five points so far at the tournament.
On the blueline, they have an elite group of puck-moving defensemen highlighted by Cam York and Jake Sanderson. I wouldn’t take this group over Team Canada’s collection of defensemen, but they’re close.
Spencer Knight will get the start for USA and he is widely regarded as the second-best goaltending prospect in the world, behind only Russia’s Yaroslav Askarov. Knight got off to a rough start at the tournament, giving up four goals on eight shots before being pulled in the opening game against Russia. Since then, he’s been really good and has brought his GAA down to 1.98 and his SV% up to 0.927.
It’s also worth nothing that the Americans have the best PP% in the tournament (Canada is 3rd) and the 3rd best PK% (Canada is 4th), so discipline will be important tonight as well. Canada can’t afford to give the USA very many looks with the man-advantage.
Team USA is deep, they have a strong blueline, they have shown that they have no problems scoring goals, and they have a goaltender that is more than capable of stealing them a game. They are going to be Canada’s toughest test so far at this year’s tournament.
WHAT I’M EXPECTING
Canada is the better team, but this game should be very close. Granted, I also said that yesterday before the game against Russia. Canada should win this game if they play to the fullest of their abilities. I’m hoping for a Canada win but I’m also hoping for a game with a lot of drama because we have not really gotten that from Team Canada this year’s tournament.
My prediction: a 5-3 win gives Canada a second straight gold medal, or, “a double in the bubble” as James Duthie put it.
THE LONE OILER
Even though he didn’t get on the scoresheet, I thought Dylan Holloway was tremendous against Russia. He got moved down to the teams’ third line for the semi-finals but that didn’t stop him from making an impact. It seemed like every time he was on the ice he was finding a way to force a turnover, create a scoring chance, or just put pressure of Russia’s defensemen.
There was a point in the third period when he flew up the ice and forced a turnover in the offensive zone and I couldn’t help but think how great it will be if he can one day use that speed at the NHL level and play on a line with Connor McDavid.
Tonight, he will look to cap off a very impressive tournament with another solid performance in the gold medal game.
AROUND THE WJC
The bronze medal game will also go today. Russia and Finland will battle for third place in the tournament. There’s a part of me that likes Finland in this one. They’ve played some very exciting hockey games so far at this year’s event.
WJC CONTENT IS SPONSORED BY HOCKEY CANADA
The 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship is back in Alberta from December 20th – January 5th, and for the first time ever, the tournament will feature a province-wide online 50/50 raffle in support of the Hockey Alberta Foundation. Albertans will have the chance to win jackpots that are bigger than ever with every game day having a maximum of up to $20 million! Tickets can be purchased online or from your mobile device within Alberta starting at 9am each day at hockeycanada.ca/5050 with the winning ticket being announced daily. The World Juniors tournament and online 50/50 program will give Albertans an opportunity to leave a historic legacy with all proceeds staying in the province and supporting Hockey Alberta Foundation and the Hockey Canada Foundation.
This content was originally published here.