Canada’s junior world squad isn’t worried about Finland


So far it has been almost too easy for the Canadian youth team.

As the side prepare to face Finland on Monday in a game that will determine who finishes first in Group A at the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, the hosts’ greatest enemy might just be complacency.

So far it’s been a walk in the park for the Canadian juniors. They swept aside Latvia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic with a 21-4 aggregate score. And in those two victories, there were two standout performances in goal, from Latvia’s Patriks Berzins and Czech Tomas Suchanek.

In the three wins they beat their opponents 145:70.

“Of course, the shots were very high for us in both games,” said defender Olen Zellweger of Canada’s victories against Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

“That is very good for us. I think if you said I was shocked (by the amount of winnings) I probably would have been a bit. But our team is good and that’s our goal – shoot the puck, get it back and keep making that attack.”

The Finns won all three of their group games – although it took the Finns a penalty shootout to finish off the Czechs. They defeated Slovakia 9-3 on Sunday afternoon just as Canada was preparing to jump on the ice at the neighboring practice ground – giving Canadians only glimpses of that Finnish triumph.

But Canadians know they have some details to work on. The Finns scored five power play goals in the victory over the Slovaks. New York Islanders prospect Aatu Raty has eight points in three games, while Nashville Predators draft pick Joakim Kemell has seven points.

“You can be picky a lot, but we also do a lot of good,” said Canadian forward Mason McTavish, who leads the tournament with 10 points in three games. “We’re just concentrating on correcting some mistakes.”

McTavish said a focus is puck movement on the power play to make things “easier” and move the puck faster. If there was one wicked moment for the Canadians in defeating the Czechs, it was a five-minute power play in the first period that generated very little and allowed a goal from a man down.

Canada striker Kent Johnson, who scored a stunning all-around lacrosse-style goal in Saturday’s win against the Czechs, said he wasn’t worried the Canadians could be fooled by their own success so far.

“I think when you win like that you can get complacent a lot, but that’s a struggle in life that a lot of us have faced many times before,” he said. “I’m not too concerned about that.”

Remember that kids who reach this level dominated games in minor hockey. They were in their own stratosphere when playing community lanes. So they had to make an effort from a young age, even though they were at a higher level than everyone else around them.

“Every player on this team, every employee is here for a reason,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we’re the kind of people with personalities who are (easily) satisfied.”

For Zellweger, it’s about not losing sight of the big picture for himself and his teammates.

“I think we have to keep our goals in mind,” he said. “We’re here for the gold medal and we have to keep that in mind. If we prepare for our games through training, that has to be our mindset.”

Zellweger said it was good for the Canadians to get some practice time as many of the sessions have been canceled due to the busy game schedule. Balancing rest and three games in four days meant there wasn’t much time to fine-tune the Canadian game, not that it looks like it’s going to need much of it.

Zellweger said the Canadians know the dangers that the Finns bring with their game.

“I think it’s their speed and their structure,” he said. “They pounce on mistakes so we have to be ready to play a strong two-way game.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 14, 2022.