2023 WJC 3 Up, 3 Down: Canada vs. Germany

After a disappointing loss in their opener, Canada took an introspective approach to their second game. Head coach Dennis Williams chose to forego on-ice training for his team except for the goaltenders, instead, looking to focus on individual mental preparation and team video sessions. Something that defenseman Olen Zellweger credited for the win saying “We mentally reset, watched a lot of video to learn from the last game and I think we came here today prepared and executed”. For Germany, there was very little downtime after their opening loss to Sweden in a game that could have just as easily been a win. 

Up No. 1: Adjustments 

After the opening match that saw Canada lose to Czechia, Williams made several changes by starting Thomas Milic in goal after a strong showing in relief. Also, the lines were shaken up in hopes of finding more balance between skill and grit. The new approach to preparation by Williams for this game bore fruits early, as the opening frame saw Canada dominate the shot clock 17-5, and draw several penalties.

“We wanted to make a statement, and we did”  

Joshua Roy

Those power plays (PP) led to two of the three goals in that period. More importantly, the Canadians didn’t get discouraged after allowing a goal to squeak through. Instead of allowing doubt to take over, they redoubled their efforts and followed that up with two more goals.  

Down No. 1: Lack of Discipline 

Germany was uncharacteristically undisciplined in this game. They were unable to stick to their game plan and play within their system as they did in their first game against Sweden. Perhaps it was due to fatigue as they played the night before. Perhaps it was due to a hungrier Team Canada looking to avenge a loss. The answer is, likely both factored into it.

“Definitely took too many penalties, if you took away our penalties through to the second period, I think the game would be 1-1″

– Julian Lutz 

Without that intense focus and discipline, Germany lacked the skill to compete with a determined Canadian squad. For Germany, disciplined, structured hockey is the recipe for success. In this game, they set the heat too high.

Up No. 2: Special Teams 

Like the opening game, Canada’s first goal of the contest was on the PP. Unlike the opening game, the PP kept on rolling. Dylan Guenther will haunt the nightmares of German goaltender Simon Wolf as he scored a hat trick of PP goals.  

The Canadian PP finished the night with an impressive 70 percent success rate. The five-minute major against Germany is what allowed them to pad their PP stats as they buried four goals on that one man-advantage alone.

Down No. 2: Defensive Zone Coverage 

It’s hard to find downs in a game where one team played so well while the other was simply out of gas. There were a few moments when Canada’s coverage in the defensive zone became unorganized and broke down when pressured. One of these breakdowns led to the first German goal. 

Related: 2023 Guide to the World Junior Championship 

Related to that coverage, the penalty-killing units’ coverage is also in need of some polish. Against Germany it fared well enough, allowing one goal on four attempts. However, they tended to swarm the puck carrier leaving large areas undefended as opposed to having the four defenders play within their zone of responsibilities, or focus on cutting off the center of the ice to force Germany over to one side, giving them less time and space. 

Up No. 3: No Turnovers 

Canada made far too many errors in their decision-making in game one, making life easy for Team Czechia to force turnovers. In the game against Germany, they were able to play more as a five-man unit and provide the puck support necessary to prevent turnovers, or at the very least, ones that lead to goals.

The team played the right way the whole game. We didn’t get away from our system or our plan. We stuck together out there”

-Olen Zellweger 

When playing the top teams in this tournament, that can become the difference between a gold medal and a fifth-place finish. Playing a more disciplined game helped to minimize that aspect of the game, as well as minimize costly penalties.

Down No. 3: Schedule Makers 

Germany drew the very short straw of playing the top two teams in their group to open the tournament. Worse yet, they had to do so on back-to-back nights. Despite a valiant effort against Sweden, they are now 0-2 and face the possibility of having to play in the relegation playoff if they can’t get some wins. German forward Julien Lutz is keeping his focus on what lies ahead, stating, “We got to just forget about that game, take some bad things out that we can do better against Austria. That’s a must-win game against Austria.”

Julian Lutz RB Muenchen
Julian Lutz, RB Muenchen (GEPA / RedBulls)

For Germany, the next game against Austria will be crucial. A win very likely propels them out of any relegation playoff regardless of how they fare in their final round-robin game against Czechia.

Austria was watching this one closely as these two teams will be their next opponents, Canada on Dec. 29 and Germany on Dec. 30. For Germany, this was one of those they need to forget and move on from. In the end, this was a statement game for Canada. They wanted to prove to the world, but mostly to themselves, that they are worthy of being called a gold medal contender. This game provided a course correction for the squad as they need to recover quickly for their next test against Austria later today.