Fuelled by a 3-goal outburst less than 5 minutes into the game and a dominant first period, Team Canada ensured it would be taking home at least a silver medal at this year’s World Junior Championship, beating Team Finland 5-0. As coach Dale Hunter is surely accustomed to by now, Canada was led by Alexis Lafrenière, who scored 2 goals, Barrett Hayton, who had 2 assists, and goalie Joel Hofer, who made 33 saves for the shutout. Canada will now face Russia in the finals.
The World Junior Championship semi-finals saw Team Canada face off against the tournament’s defending champion, Team Finland. The teams played for a chance to face Russia in the finals. Canada was surely teetering at the bit to book a date with the Russians in the finals, who beat Sweden in a 5-4 overtime thriller earlier that day. The final matchup would serve as an opportunity for redemption (Russia embarrassed Canada 6-0 in their previous matchup) but also for a chance at gold. However, it was first incumbent on Canada to beat an extremely resilient Finland team, coming off a gritty 1-0 upset win over the Americans. The Finns previously ended Team Canada’s championship hopes at last year’s tournament (on route to their own championship), so redemption was not only at stake tomorrow.
It was a dream start for Canada as they scored 3 goals not even 5 minutes into the game. First when Connor McMichael sniped a wrist shot top shelf on goalie Justus Annunen less than 2 minutes in. Phenom Alexis Lafrenière followed that with a breakaway goal and defenceman Jamie Drysdale with a point shot. Finland came close to making it 3-1 about halfway into the first period but Canadian goalie Joel Hofer made a couple of huge pad saves. A strange turn of events transpired when Finnish forward Sampo Ranta shot a puck on Hofer after a whistle while simultaneously receiving an errant high stick by Canadian defenceman Caleb Addison, leaving him bloodied. Addison’s high stick was uncalled and despite not resulting in a Canadian powerplay, Ranta was issued a 10-minute misconduct, leaving the already injury-plagued Fins without one of their best forwards. To make matters worse for the Fins, because Ranta was bloodied, he was forced to go to the locker room and Aaatu Räty was forced to sit in the penalty box in his place, leaving them down two forwards early in the game.
Canada capitalized and increased its lead to 4-0 when Ty Dellandrea netted a loose puck off a rebound. Despite a late powerplay that left Canada frantic in its own end, with the help of Hofer, the period ended 4-0.
The second period was far less exciting for the Canadians and Hoffer was forced to make a great save on a 2-1 chance 6 minutes into the period, and several others later on. Late into the period, Lafrenière scored on a powerplay (drawn by who else than Lafrenière himself) giving him his second of the game and Canada the 5-0 lead, which they took going into the final period.
The third period started off with a scare for Team Canada as captain Barrett Hayton was crushed into the boards by Finish defenceman Lassi Thompson. Hayton was forced to leave to the dressing room favouring his left arm and did not return. Questions surrounding Hayton’s availability will certainly ramp up over the coming hours. The injury may serve as a ginormous loss, as Hayton leads the tournament with 11 points and the Canadians will need all the help they can get against an imposing Russian squad.
With their ticket to the finals now sealed, Canada must turn their attention to a team, that less than a week ago, crushed them 6-0. With gold on the line, the game will take place on Sunday at 1 pm eastern.