Deja Vu All Over Again?

Oh-Canada Dec 29, 2021

Team Canada moves to 2-0 in World Juniors Championship....Will they run the table again until the finals?

From The Toronto Star:

EDMONTON If comparing 16-year-old hockey phenoms is your thing, then Connor Bedard has given you something to talk about.

Bedard did something neither Connor McDavid nor even Wayne Gretzky ever managed to accomplish: score four goals for Canada in a single game at the world junior hockey championship.

Bedard did it in Canada’s 11-2 trouncing of Austria on Tuesday night, and the accolades poured in for the Regina Pats phenom.

“It’s definitely cool hearing your name alongside one of, if not the greatest player to ever play,” Bedard said after the game of comparisons with Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leading points producer at 2,857. “It’s one game. I don’t think I’ll be getting 2,800 points in the NHL.

“It’s obviously cool, though, just to hear my name with his. It’s obviously good, but we’ve got a long way to go in this tournament.”

If he’s not already, Bedard should become a household name to the nation’s hockey fans. He had been granted exceptional status at 15 to play in the Western Hockey League last year. Then he became the first 16-year-old to make Canada’s world junior entry since McDavid in 2014 in Malmo, Sweden. McDavid was lightly used in that tournament, scoring just one goal. Gretzky, at 16, managed two hat tricks in 1977, but never four goals in a game.

“He’s earned that,” Canadian coach Dave Cameron said of Bedard. “I like the (term) exceptional status for players like him that came in and (proved) he’s an exceptional player. And what I like, when I look at my short time with Connor, is how receptive he is to coaching.

“You have to let those exceptional players play to their strengths, but you have to mature their game away from the puck. And Bedard has made good strides in that in the short time that I’ve had him.”

Bedard started the opener as the 13th forward, but moved up to the top line by the end of that game, then took a regular shift on the fourth line against Austria. And Bedard’s mastery of skating, passing, shooting is akin to McDavid’s, with Bedard destined to be the first overall pick in the 2023 draft.

Just one game after defenceman Owen Power’s hat trick powered Canada’s 6-3 win over the Czechs, Bedard equalled Power’s feat in the natural way — three in a row — and added one in a game in which offence was, predictably, easier to come by.

Bedard joins a small list of Canadians with four in a world junior game: Mario Lemieux, Simon Gagné, Brayden Schenn, Taylor Raddysh and Maxime Comtois.

The tournament record is six by Sweden’s Ola Rosander in 1987 vs. Poland. Eight players, none Canadian, scored five.

“It’s the second game of the tournament, so I’m trying not to get too high myself,” said Bedard. “I’m 16. I haven’t really done much yet in my career, so I think you’ve just got to stay focused.”

Magic: Bedard provided moments of magic in a game that desperately lacked drama. The old line is that the game was over when they dropped the puck. But this one was really over when the schedule came out. There was never a doubt that Canada would beat Austria. The only question was by how much.

The offence came from all over the lineup. Beyond Bedard, Canada got two goals from Mason McTavish and one each from Cole Perfetti, Mavrik Bourque, Logan Stankoven, Lukas Cormier and Kent Johnson.

Austria, which only scored once last year, got two. It’s first was from Lukáš Necesany, gifted an empty net when Canadian goalie Brett Brochu went for a bit of a wander — out of boredom perhaps — but failed to connect on a poke-check. The second came on a third-period power play, Mathias Böhm on a rebound.

Austria’s Leon Sommer faced all 66 Canadian shots.

This was just the second time Canada has faced Austria. Canada won the first meeting 11-1 in 1981. This is the Austrians’ third appearance. They were here last year, and remained in the top tier when no team was relegated.

Canada has six points after two regulation wins and faces Germany on Wednesday. The Germans have two points after two games, an overtime win and regulation loss.

“I’m not sure that game does either team any good in terms of getting better, but it’s the reality of the tournament,” said Cameron, referencing Canada’s 16-2 defeat of Germany last year. “That’s what this whole tournament is about ... and coming off the ice, our players are already talking about ... how much tougher the game is going to be (Wednesday) against more mature German team.”

COVID calls: The best that could be said about the Austrians is that they showed up. Gamely. And didn’t have COVID, although first-liner Senna Peeters missed their opener because of a positive test prior to the tournament. He was cleared to play after two negative tests on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, however, the Americans had to forfeit against Switzerland because of a COVID outbreak that saw two players test positive and a few others in isolation as a precaution. That stood as a reminder that the pandemic could impede this annual tournament the way it has so many other aspects of sports and life in general. Tournament organizers awaited further test results from the defending gold medallists.

“You don’t want to see any team have to forfeit games (after) all the work that’s done to get in here, to pull this tournament off in these trying conditions,” said Cameron. “Hopefully it’s just a one-off for them and their tournament continues.”

Glorified exhibition: There will be those who wonder why they even schedule these kinds of games, destined to be lopsided. But the answer has more to do with the Austrias and other countries below the big hockey countries — Canada, Russia, the U.S., Sweden, Finland, the Czechs and Slovakia. The minnows want to measure themselves against the best to see what they can do, how far they have to go.

The Canadians use these games more like an exhibition, albeit one that counts in the standings with personal statistics that can pile up.

Coach Dave Cameron has been fidgeting with his top line.

Shane Wright — expected to be the top pick in the summer NHL draft has been the No. 1 centre with Winnipeg Jets prospect Perfetti on left wing. Xavier Bourgault started the first game as the No. 1 right-winger, but was replaced as the game went on by Bedard, who has clearly established himself as more than the 13th forward.

For Tuesday’s game, Bourgault was scratched and Bourque moved up to the top line. Also, Wright shifted to the wing with the more experienced Perfetti taking over at centre. It all seemed part of a bigger plan to get everyone playing with everyone else, as each line got a bit of a makeover.

“We’re going to mix and match as we move through the early part of the tournament, so we can be ready when the games take on a little bit more meaning,” said Cameron.

Game prep: It’s not like the Canadians weren’t expecting to play a lopsided game here and there. It seems to happen every year. Last year, Canada beat the Germans 16-2. So it’s almost to the point where the Canadians know they have to do their best to get something out of one-sided affairs.

“Those kind of games are when character comes out,” said captain Kaiden Guhle. “You want to keep generating good habits. Those type of games, when they get one-sided, bad habits can come out. It’s just really important to keep your habits and keep playing the right way, and just keep improving.

“We come in every game and see everyone as a good team. Every team has good players. We come in every game with the same mindset. We don’t look at any other teams as less. We respect every team. We never come into a game thinking about the teams any less than we are.”

Ins and outs: The Canadians scratched goalie Sebastian Cossa for the second game in a row, and Bourgault for the first time ... Stankoven and defenceman Ryan O’Rourke saw their first action ... The Canadians were also without forward Justin Sourdif, suspended one game for an illegal hit to the head of Czech defender Jiri Tchacek in the opener.

Fan fiction: About 4,500 fans took in the first game at Rogers Place. About the same number were on hand for the second. Hockey Canada, limited to about 9,750 under COVID rules in Alberta, was not that worried. It’s also been particularly cold in Alberta, hitting minus-28 Tuesday. And no food or beverages are being served at the arena.

“I don’t think the weather’s conducive to getting out to hockey games and whatnot,” said Hockey Canada president Tom Renney. “It really and truly is about playing the games, keeping everybody safe, including the fans. And if in their estimation, staying home and watch it on TV is more to their liking, we get that.”

Relegated: The IIHF had already decided that no team will be relegated in this tournament, but took it a step further Tuesday by cancelling the relegation round altogether. Teams at the bottom of the table will be determined by ranking at the end of the preliminary round. Teams that finish in the bottom of each group have typically played a best-of-three to survive. Next year, the tournament will have 11 teams, with Belarus having earned promotion prior to the spread of the Omicron variant.

(writer:  Kevin McGran)