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The Canadian World Junior Team came out victorious against the Slovakia team, crushing them 6-1 Thursday morning.
The team has already put its fans through a whirlwind of emotions. Canada commenced its group stage play with an inspiring 6-4 victory over their arch-rival Americans, reinforcing optimism that the young Canadian squad would be legitimate contenders in the tournament. Yet the optimism took a swift and devasting turn in Canada’s deflating 6-0 loss to the Russians. To make matters worse, the nightmare game resulted in an injury to projected 1st overall pick in this year’s NHL draft Alexis Lafrenière and a suspension to Red Wing’s prospect Joe Veleno. Aided by the emergence of goaltender Joel Hoffer, Canada won its two remaining games, against the Germans (4 -1) and host Czech Republic (7-2) in convincing fashion to calm some nerves.
Canada, despite its inconsistency, entered the elimination stage first in Group B and faced a Slovakian team that finished fourth in Group A. Slovakia suited very few NHL affiliated prospects and Canada was expected to take the game handily. Furthermore, Canada received a major boost with the return of Lafrenière from a scary injury and it could not have come at a better time, as games cannot serve as teaching points for this inexperienced group moving forward, it is now do or die.
The game began with Nolan Foote delivering a huge hit on Kristian Kovacik, which was deemed to have been targeting the head and Foote was ejected less than a minute into the game. Slovakia was gifted a five minute powerplay to begin the game. During the extended powerplay Hoffer was brilliant, stopping six shots, including making a cross crease save on a 2 on 1. The Slovaks were unable to capitalize on the powerplay. Not even two minutes after the Slovak powerplay ended, Team Canada captain Barret Hayton buried a Lafrenière pass into the Slovak net giving Canada the one goal lead. Though Canada had several more chances, the period ended with the same score.
A minute and a half into the second period, forward Connor McMichael scored on a 2-1 chance giving Canada the two goal lead. Defenceman Jacob Bernard- Docker buried a wrist shot past goalie Samuel Hlavaj a minute later to increase it to three. Hinting at a possible blowout, TSN commentator Gord Miller said, “Its cookie time”. Canada did not disappoint, as shortly after Canadian forward Liam Foody showed off his speed and skill on a highlight reel breakaway goal and Alexis Lafrenière made his presence be known with a slick powerplay goal. The buzzer sounded with Canada up 5-0 and Canada scored more goals (4) than Slovakia had shots (1) in the period.
An early powerplay goal by Captain Barret Hayton gave him his second of the game and Canada the 6-0 lead, ending goaltender Hlavaj’s game as he had only saved 24 of the 30 shots he faced. Goaltender Samuel Vyletelka seemingly entered the game on mop up duty but actually sparked a Slovak goal when Oliver Okuliar buried a slapshot past the rarely tested Hoffer, making it 6-1.
Some would call this quarterfinal matchup against Slovakia as the appetizer to Canada’s championship fate, which will surely require overcoming greater challenges. The remaining competition will ramp up, possibly including long-time rivals such as Russia, Sweden, the United States and Finland. Canada does not yet know who they will face next, but the dynamic duo of Barret Hayton and Alexis Lafrenière and the collective effort displayed today allows them to enter the game with confidence.