When the final buzzer sounded at the Air Canada Centre Monday night, it was barely heard as fans cheered uncontrollably as Canada had won their first gold medal since 2009. The 2015 edition of the World Junior Hockey Championship came to a close with a thrilling 5-4 win by the host nation.
The Canadians won their first medal since a bronze finish in 2012 in Edmonton. The team was dominant all tournament holding a 2-0 lead in every game and never being tied with a team other than 0-0. The team lead the tournament with 39 goals for and just nine against during their seven games. It was a very interesting few weeks, but there were some reasons that helped lead Canada to the top of the junior stage once again.
1. McDavid Returned From Injury
Many Canadians became very worried when during a game back on November 11, Connor McDavid got into a fight with Mississauga Steelheads Bryson Cianfrone. During the tustle, the Erie Otters captain wound up for a punch and in doing so connected with the glass. The mishap lead to a hand injury, but luckily for the 17-year-old and Canada, a specialist who looked checked out McDavid’s injury declared that he would not need to have surgery to repair it. However, the injury left some doubt as to whether the potential first-overall pick in next year’s NHL entry draft would be healthy enough to go for the tournament.
Luckily McDavid in turn was able to join the team taking it easy for the first few skates during the team’s training camp, wearing a non-contact jersey during the first few sessions. Ultimately he was able to get into a couple pre-tournament games and was good to go for the team’s first game against Slovakia. And though he was held off the scoreboard in the team’s 8-0 dusting of Slovakia, McDavid was red hot the rest of the way finishing tied for the lead in team scoring with 11 points, playing a big part in the team’s win.
2. NHL Teams Lent Players to Canada
Besides being assured that McDavid was good to go for the tournament, Canada was also fortunate enough to have players Anthony Duclair and team captain, Curtis Lazar loaned by their NHL clubs. The New York Rangers allowed their third round pick in 2013 to join the team after he had been in and out of the lineup playing in just 18 games with the team.
Meanwhile, a day after scoring his first NHL goal with the Ottawa Senators, the team decided to let Lazar join who had put up just seven points with Ottawa in 27 games with the team playing largely on the bottom six of the lineup. Both players ended up playing big
Duclair finished the tournament with eight points in the seven games including a goal 23 seconds into the gold medal game Monday, while Lazar finished with five goals and nine points.
3. Canada Had an Easy Path to Gold
Canada did have a dominant tournament as mentioned before, but a big reason for this is well, a lucky path to the gold medal game. During the preliminary round the team’s biggest test came on New Year’s Eve when the team played their rivals the Americans which ended in a 5-3 win for the team. And though they played the winners of last year’s tournament Finland and beat them 4-1, it was clear this year that Finland was not the same team they were one year ago.
So heading into the medal round they had an easy quarterfinal game against Denmark, who avoided relegation for the first time in their history this year, defeating them 8-0. And then after the Czech Republic also had a disappointing tournament and losing their quarterfinal to Slovakia, Canada beat Slovakia, the team they had done so easily early on once again 5-1.
This left just Russia where Canada had their toughest test, and the just narrowly defeated them. The team was dominant during the tournament, but they were lucky enough to not have to face the likes of Sweden or a Russia earlier on.
4. Decision To Go With Skill
What might be the biggest reason for the team finally being able to snap their six-year gold drought at the World Juniors was the fact that team management decided to go with a more skilled squad this time around. Following the tournament last year, then head coach Brent Sutter said that the team should have put together a collection of more skilled players.
Instead last year Hockey Canada attempted to go with a team that had a collection of skill and grit. In fact the team entered last year’s tournament aware that they were not a very fast squad. Ultimately the team ended up losing their second straight bronze medal game to the Russians. This year Canada’s Head Scout Ryan Jankowski took notice of what Team Canada did at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
He saw that the team was made up of players who were all very skilled and had lots of points in the NHL and that instead of bringing in tough guys and hoping they could chip in offensively, the idea seemed to be that it is easier to get offensive minded players to buy on the defensive side of things. The first day or training camp the team practiced shot blocking with even an injured McDavid taking part in the drills. In the end the move paid off with Frederik Gauthier being the only forward not to record a goal in the tournament.
5. The Team Had Played Together Before
The team looked to be in sync with each other from the drop of the opening faceoff of their first game one and this was no coincidence. In many cases in tournaments such as these, players are thrown in together and asked to gel with one another in a very small time. This year a large part of the team entered the tournament with, at least some, familiarity with each other.
Of the 20 players suited up for Monday’s game against the Russians, 12 of them also donned the red and white for Canada at the 2013 World Under-18 championships that also won gold. Much of the talk of the tournament was how the team’s top-line of Domi, Duclair, and Reinhart had amazing chemistry from the get go, being the only line to remain intact all tournament, including the first day of training camp. Well all three of these guys were a part of the team that won gold in 2013. These players knew what it takes to win coming into this tournament and they did.
Canada had a great tournament and were able to continue their streak of recording a medal every time the tournament was held on home ice. And for now Canada will enjoy the glory until next year when the whole things starts up again.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.