2019 World Juniors: Canada Dominant on Day 1

VANCOUVER — So far, so good. For Canada and for me.

Flying into Vancouver, getting to Rogers Arena, finding my designated seat in the press box — ’twas all smooth sailing on the opening day of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Perched high above ice level with a terrific vantage point, I settled in next to Steve Erickson of Sportswave.ca, a longtime Delta, B.C., resident with roots in Saskatchewan — his dad hailed from Big River, while I’m from Luseland. Two small towns about four hours apart and, yes, I played hockey in Big River back in the day, a late-’90s provincial clash.

Steve had his share of stories, a well-travelled man who spent some time in Winnipeg as a referee for the World Hockey Association (WHA) and now has a 30-year-old nephew Brandon Buck playing pro in Germany and currently at the Spengler Cup. Good company makes for a good start!

Speaking of good starts . . .

Canada 14, Denmark 0

First off, that’s not a typo in the scoreline. The host Canadians delivered in double-digits on Boxing Day, led by a charged-up Morgan Frost and a recharged Brett Leason. Those two were flying early on and, along with Owen Tippett, staked Canada to a 3-0 lead through the first period.

Canada’s biggest challenge was expected to be 6-foot-7 Danish goaltender Mads Søgaard — who has been standing tall for the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers this season — but the ice tilted from the opening puck-drop and there was no stopping the first two goals from Frost and Tippett.

In front of a raucous crowd, Frost opened the scoring at 4:52 by patiently deking around Søgaard’s long legs after Leason forced a turnover to get him the puck, then Tippett finished a tic-tac-toe passing sequence from Frost and Cody Glass at 8:32 to make it 2-0. That goal was gift-wrapped by Frost and he netted his second of the game in the final minute of the opening frame — one that Søgaard would want back, a short-side wrister over the blocker that wasn’t much of a snipe but counted all the same and kept the building buzzing into the intermission.

Captain Canada Max Comtois roofed his own rebound just 45 seconds into the second period to erase any chance of a comeback and Frost completed his hat trick at 1:50 to ensure the party would last into the night as Canada’s new goal song — Pitbull’s ‘Don’t Stop the Party’ — continued to blast through Rogers Arena speakers while staff collected a steady stream of hats from fans (with more to come).

Goaltender Michael DiPietro even got on the scoresheet in helping set up Frost’s third goal by firing the puck up to Nick Suzuki at the far blue line — catching the Danes on a line change — and, breaking in 2-on-1, Suzuki slid it across to Frost, who made no mistake in converting that feed while emerging as the tournament’s early scoring leader with five points (three goals, two assists).

Jack Studnicka and Tippett tacked on power-play goals at 7:46 and 13:42, and Canada was up by a converted touchdown just past the midway mark. Jaret Anderson-Dolan made it 8-0 through 40 minutes, yet Canada was far from done.

Comtois scored three more in the third period — bringing his game total to a team-high four goals — and Leason netted a pair before Mackenzie Entwistle put on the finishing touch. The last three came against Denmark backup William Rorth, who came on in relief of Søgaard after it was 11-0.

DiPietro wasn’t overly tested at the other end in pitching a 14-save shutout, but he had to stone Phillip Schultz on a third-period penalty shot. Schultz, who was named Denmark’s player of the game, has shown finishing ability in those situations as a rookie import with the WHL’s Victoria Royals, but DiPietro didn’t flinch on his fake and denied the forehand shot that followed.

All in all, Tim Hunter couldn’t have drew it up any better — a dominant start to the tournament by the defending champions despite only returning one player in Comtois.

Czech Republic 2, Switzerland 1 (OT)

David Kvasnicka wasn’t the most noticeable player for the Czechs, but he showed up when it mattered most — sailing a wrister over the shoulder of Luca Hollenstein for the overtime winner.

That ended an entertaining and competitive tournament opener, a goaltending duel that saw Hollenstein and Czech counterpart Lukas Dostal named the players of the game for their respective countries.

The bigger names that were expected to stand out didn’t disappoint for the most part, with Colorado first-rounder Martin Kaut and Swiss captain Nando Eggenberger exchanging goals just 1:17 apart in the second period to set the stage for overtime.

Filip Zadina, the sixth overall selection by Detroit in 2018, came up empty on a handful of quality chances that included pinging the crossbar, while Carolina first-rounder Martin Necas was denied in the dying seconds of regulation and had several prime set-ups.

Filip Zadina
(Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)
Filip Zadina, seen here during last year’s World Juniors in Buffalo, didn’t light the lamp on Day 1 in Vancouver but was the most dangerous player on the ice during the Czech Republic-Switzerland opener.

Krystof Hrabik, the unheralded linemate alongside Necas and Kaut, hit a post with under eight minutes left in the third period and seemed to make the most of that opportunity in a prominent role. An undrafted 19-year-old playing for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans as a rookie import, Hrabik is looking like a late-bloomer and could force his way onto the scouting radar for the 2019 NHL draft if his strong showing continues here.

Hrabik also had the net-front bumper spot on the Czechs’ top power-play unit, which was quarterbacked by fellow WHLer Filip Kral of the Spokane Chiefs, while Necas, Kaut and Zadina, occupying the other point position, rounded out that potent group.

The Czechs had the better chances through two periods — Jachym Kondelik and Jakub Lauko also accounting for a few of them — but Switzerland got better as the game wore on and nearly went ahead multiple times in the third period.

Czech Republic Overtime WJC
(Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Switzerland forwards Justin Sigrist and Yannick Bruschweiler look on as Czech Republic players celebrate their overtime win on Wednesday.

The Swiss pulled even in shots at 26-26 after trailing 12-4 at the first intermission and the overtime loss may go down as a morale victory or at least a confidence-booster going into Thursday’s matchup against Canada.

“The first period was OK, the second period was good, and the third period was amazing,” said Swiss coach Christian Wohlwend, who was upbeat and very much glass half-full for his postgame scrum with reporters, noting: “It was super close.”