Workforce Canada’s under-20 world junior staff proved but once more that even a stacked roster loaded with first-round draft picks is inclined to an surprising collapse. Final 12 months’s gold medal however, the Canadians’ late-game shortcomings on the event they used to dominate have turn into considerably of a pattern on this decade — maybe none extra painful and disappointing than what transpired in Vancouver on Wednesday night time.

In probably the most surprising finishes in WJC historical past, Finland rallied with a tying purpose within the closing minute of regulation and an additional time winner to remove Canada, 2-1, in entrance of a shocked partisan Canadian crowd. It marked the primary time that Workforce Canada didn’t earn a medal within the 13 instances they hosted the favored annual prospect occasion. 

Picked by many specialists to repeat as champions, the Canadian nationwide junior staff by no means appeared to get their offense into gear after a 14-Zero drubbing of lowly Denmark of their opening sport of the preliminary spherical. Canada scored solely 10 targets in its closing 4 video games, with solely two mixed in consecutive losses to Russia and the Finns. 

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So what precisely occurred? The straightforward reply is that Canada was actually outplayed by a gifted Finland squad. Or just put — the higher staff gained. However these statements, as factual as they might be, don’t go over effectively with ardent Canadian followers and critics, who’ve been led to imagine that something wanting WJC gold is an abject failure, and making ready for and executing the postmortem blame sport is equally as essential because the event itself. 

Finger-pointing at people, nonetheless, is nothing greater than a knee-jerk response to the chilly, harsh actuality that relating to the world juniors, Canada now not is the world’s dominant hockey energy. Certain, captain Maxime Comtois’ missed penalty shot in additional time, adopted by Noah Dobson’s stick breaking on his one-time try at a yawning cage, have been crucial setbacks instantly previous to Finland’s Toni Utunen scoring the sport winner. However the Canadians collectively proved they have been unable to dictate the tempo in both of their closing two video games earlier than finally surrendering late, backbreaking targets. That reality can’t be neglected. 

They’ve gained WJC gold solely twice within the 10 years since their spectacular run of 5 straight titles between 2005 and 2009. In reality, Canada has medaled in solely three of the final seven World Juniors, whereas the Russians and Individuals have earned 5 and 4, respectively, and that’s with each groups nonetheless alive for an additional medal from this 12 months’s event.

What’s extra disconcerting is that 4 of the final 5 occasions have been held in both Canada itself, or Buffalo, which sits minutes away from the Canadian border. A major home-ice benefit coupled with an optimum journey and observe schedule has performed little to assist Hockey Canada current its under-20 program as the very best in worldwide hockey. 

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Did Canada overlook Finland after listening to earlier on Wednesday that it could be Switzerland awaiting them within the semifinals after top-seeded Sweden was knocked out? Neither head coach Tm Hunter nor any of his gamers will ever admit that publicly. However human nature is a facet typically neglected in any aggressive sport, and there’s all the time the possibility that the extent of desperation could lower understanding that one’s path to the gold medal sport all of a sudden turned noticeable simpler, no less than on paper. However one mustn’t assume the Canadians took their foot off the gasoline pedal upon studying of Sweden’s ouster, just because it by no means seemed like they have been enjoying elimination-game depth to start with. 

Total, the efforts within the losses to Russia and Finland appeared common by Canadian requirements. Though Canada’s heavy, relentless forecheck was current from the onset, the help from its usually quick-thinking defenders able to step up within the impartial zone to spark the transition to offense wasn’t there. This resulted in an even bigger impartial zone for the enemy to navigate via, and making issues worse was Canada’s incapacity to win puck battles or outrace opponents to unfastened pucks.

Each the Russian and Finnish defenseman used poise and mobility to persistently beat again stress within the defensive zone and lure overcommitted Canadians with fast, crisp passes. Again and again, Canadian goaltender Michael DiPietro bailed out his mates by making crucial stops with the rating tied or with Canada clinging to one-goal lead. The lack of his personal staff’s forwards to tilt the ice in direction of the opposing goaltender was evident within the third interval of Monday’s 2-1 defeat to Russia, which took benefit of defensive-zone breakdowns to attain the tie breaking purpose within the third interval. The loss denied Canada the possibility to win their group and draw a extra favorable quarterfinal matchup in opposition to lower-seeded Slovakia. 

Nonetheless, Canada’s World Juniors resulted in disappointment, and the way during which it ended definitely compounded the heartache. However earlier than you get away the pitchforks, consider the next components that almost all definitely contributed to Canada’s early exit:

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1. 1999 

There have been a number of warning indicators previous to the event that the 2019 model of Workforce Canada’s under-20 staff would have extra of an uphill climb towards a medal than earlier editions.

For starters, 13 gamers on their WJC roster born in 1999 have been on the under-18 staff that didn’t medal on the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, thus ending an eight-year gold medal streak. Within the preliminary spherical of that event, Comtois took a pricey penalty late within the third interval in opposition to Russia that led to the tying purpose by Ivan Chekhovich earlier than Klim Kostin gained it seconds later. The Hlinka is an elite, best-on-best competitors that permits Canada to ship its greatest draft-eligible gamers with out disrupting the Canadian Hockey League’s common season schedule, and never even incomes a medal in a event they all the time dominated didn’t go unnoticed by hockey’s worldwide neighborhood.

Later that April, that very same group on the under-18 world championships positioned fifth — Canada’s worst end in seven years. Ten gamers who have been dressed for Wednesday’s defeat additionally performed in a humbling 6-Three loss to the Finns in that event. 

2. Unhealthy luck

The Canadians had an unconscionable variety of breaks go in opposition to them within the loss to Finland.

Aleksi Heponiemi’s fluky tying purpose late within the third interval pinballed in off his left shin after Eeli Tolvanen’s desperation centering try. Moments earlier, Tolvanen’s bad-angle backhander from the appropriate nook hit the aspect of the online and caromed proper again to him in stride, thus permitting him to make a second try towards the online.

The probabilities of each performs taking place inside a matter of seconds are distant, and there was nothing extra Canada might have performed to forestall such an unlucky sequence from ruining their medal hopes.

In additional time, a breaking Evan Bouchard was hooked by Tolvanen simply as he tried to shoot, resulting in the aforementioned penalty shot by Comtois. The goalie normally has the benefit on this state of affairs, and Comtois’ determination to go both low to the stick aspect or five-hole was applicable in that goalie Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen was revealing a large hole within the decrease half. It missed sneaking beneath his proper pad by solely an inch or two, and credit score the goalie for probably anticipating it.

You see, Comtois has a really correct wrist shot and favors going five-hole, as he’s confirmed in shootout makes an attempt within the QMJHL, final 12 months at Canada’s 2017 WJC camp, and through his time this season with the Anaheim Geese. Moreover, what Comtois did (or didn’t do) together with his golden alternative would have been downgraded to a footnote in World Juniors historical past had Dobson not had probably the most unlucky tools malfunctions you’ll ever see within the midst of that large of a possibility.

Once more, these are examples of dangerous breaks that occurred to wonderful prospects and have been of the variability that championship groups typically keep away from throughout a march to a title. 

MORE: Alexis Lafreniere takes classes in stride beneath Canada’s microscope

3. Energy outage 

Canada’s energy play operated at a paltry 16.7 % (Three for 18), which simply was their lowest success price in over a decade.

It appeared obvious that head coach Tim Hunter was married to a prime unit that went scoreless over their final 16 alternatives with the person benefit. However anyone who’s adopted the sport lengthy sufficient is aware of that energy play effectiveness might be inconsistent for each the great and dangerous groups, and that there not often is a silver-bullet treatment to right away repair a tight-gripped unit enjoying in a brief event.

Sure, it’s completely fantastic to imagine any energy play with the likes of Evan Bouchard and Ty Smith working the factors would obtain extra success than what truly occurred. However once more, the roster was heavy on playmakers and light-weight on pure finishers, and the skinny age group didn’t go away Hockey Canada with many choices. Having a hulking net-front presence and power-play specialist like Detroit Pink Wings middle Michael Rasmussen could have helped, as would have permitting a heady ahead like Joe Veleno to man one of many factors.

Not being mentioned, nonetheless, is the standard of Canada’s opposing penalty killers. The Russians, Czechs and Swiss owned three of the event’s 4 greatest items whereas down a person, and all three rosters have been dotted with CHL import gamers which have familiarity with Canada’s large weapons.

Certain, we are able to commute with a rooster vs. egg argument that one unit’s success was facilitated by the opposite’s struggles. However scoring for each WJC staff — each at even energy and on the ability play — is down throughout the board in comparison with final 12 months’s event. By way of this 12 months’s quarterfinals, groups mixed for 4 targets or much less in 11 of the 25 video games. In 2018, solely one of many first 25 contests noticed two nations fail to tally 5 or extra targets. 

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