The 2022 U20 World Junior Championships finally concluded in Edmonton at Rogers Place over the past weekend.
A prestigious tournament many avid hockey fans follow due to catching a glimpse of the future, they were able to finish up in August instead of January due to Covid. Thankfully, there weren’t anymore issues.
In the end, a very strong Canadian roster proved to be the best. They captured their 19th World Junior Championship on Saturday night by edging Finland 3-2 in overtime.
Kent Johnson etched his name in Canadian lore by scoring the golden goal at 63:20 of OT to touch off a wild celebration in front of the home fans. The Blue Jackets’ future star wouldn’t have even been the hero if not for a remarkable defensive play by tournament MVP Mason McTavish.
Moments earlier, after Finland cut it too fine on a three-on-one that allowed Ranger prospect Dylan Garand to make the save and keep play moving, a hit behind the net created a turnover.
It looked like game over. But at the last split second, a hustling McTavish broke up the potential game-winner when he calmly knocked down the puck on the goal line to prevent a great comeback by Finland. They trailed by two entering the third. But goals from Aleksi Heimosalmi and Nashville 2022 first round pick Joakim Kemell allowed them to rally back and stun the pro Canada crowd.
Finland dominated the whole third and nearly won it in regulation. Give Garand credit for making the key saves. He did have puck luck in overtime. Finland had the winner off a turnover for what would’ve been an easy put away similar to Kemell’s tying goal.
However, McTavish was in the right place at the right time. The captain of Canada had been brilliant throughout the WJC. His two assists on goals from Joshua Roy and William Dufour gave him a tournament best 17 points (8-9-17). But it was the clutch defensive play that he’ll be most remembered for. Future captain in Anaheim? Maybe.
It was right after that clutch play that Islanders’ 2021 second round pick Aatu Raty turned over the puck in the neutral zone. He had a very good tournament producing three goals and seven assists for 10 points for Suomi. But that turnover led directly to Johnson’s memorable winner.
The winning play was made possible when Logan Stankoven perfectly led Johnson in on Finland goalie Juha Jatkola. It was the play of Jatkola that gave the Finns a chance to tie it when he denied a Canadian player of a certain goal in tight prior to Kemell’s equalizer.
On the winner, Jatkola denied Johnson’s forehand, backhand attempt to make a great save. But the puck came right back to the forward, who was able to rebound it home for the emotional golden goal.
It was a great ending to a well played championship game. Even if the IIHF officials made a few soft calls that made you roll your eyes after Finland tied it. Fortunately, a penalty didn’t decide it. Canada went 0-for-6 on the power play. Finland only drew one and didn’t connect on either.
If there was something I wasn’t fond of, it’s playing three-on-three at the start of what can be sudden death. Especially with the rules now including a full 20 minutes. If they’re playing 20, it shouldn’t be three-on-three. Make it at least four-on-four.
All it takes is one mistake during three-on-three. Canada nearly got burned twice. They probably should’ve lost after that three-on-one. It’s astonishing that Finland had two cracks at it and didn’t score. You could see the pain all over Raty following Johnson’s overtime winner.
While Canada poured off the bench to celebrate, the Finland coach made a desperate challenge to see if the shot McTavish blocked crossed the goal line. It was obvious that it didn’t. His players knew it. It was a tough way to lose. Especially after the heart they showed coming back and dominating the third.
That’s hockey. A game of inches. The puck bounced Canada’s way. They won their second gold medal in three years. They also won in 2018. Congrats to #FutureBlue Will Cuylle, Garand and Brennan Othmann on winning gold. The excitement on their faces was priceless.
The one country who’s prevented Canada from more glory is Team USA. They got them twice in 2017 and 2020. ’17 was the Troy Terry game in a shootout. ’20 was all about Spencer Knight.
Along with ’04 and ’10, those were special moments for USA Hockey. It’s easy to recall most of the heroes. From Al Montoya to Zach Parise to John Carlson, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, etc. American hockey continues to churn out talent.
That’s why this year was so disappointing. After running the table in preliminary play to win a weaker Group B sans Russia (banned), they were upset by Czechia in the quarterfinals 4-2 last Wednesday.
To be complimentary, the Czech Republic played a great game and deserved the win. They really got momentum when captain Jan Mysak was able to score on a nice deflection to tie the game with 2:55 remaining in the first period.
It was a well executed play. They won a board battle in the corner. Jiri Kulich got the puck up for Jiri Tichacek, whose point shot had a double screen when Mysak was able to get his stick on the puck for a nice tip-in.
After the goal, you could sense the Czechs gaining confidence. It’s not like they didn’t create chances off counters prior to the Mysak tally. They had. They had a bit of bad luck when a funny carom off the back boards allowed Logan Cooley to connect in front from Matt Coronato and Matt Knies.
But Team USA never could get that big second goal to create some doubt. The Czechs played solid defense by keeping most of the chances to the outside. They used their size well on the blue line. Then countered with good speed. It was a great strategy.
When Devils prospect Petr Hauser took a pass from Ivan Ivan and blew a rocket past Kaidan Mbereko at 27:34, that gave Czechia the lead. They then got a crusher Mbereko let in a soft one to Matyas Sapovaliv 3:11 later. It went right through the wickets.
For a while, it looked like there’d be no comeback. Ranger prospect Brett Berard got tossed for slewfooting Sasha Pastujov less than three minutes into the third period. But the American penalty kill was strong and drew a penalty on Stanislav Svozil. He’d later get nabbed for a kneeing major on Cooley, who fortunately was okay.
While the Czechs did a solid job on the kill, it was Carter Mazur who was able to cash in on a rebound of a Landon Slaggert shot directly in front for a big power play goal that cut the deficit to one with 8:29 left. Mazur had an outstanding tournament finishing with five goals and seven points. It looks like the Red Wings have a good one for the future. He’ll return to Denver for his sophomore year.
After the Czechs killed the remainder of the major penalty, they clamped down. Even though USA pushed for the equalizer, they never could get the kind of high quality chance needed to force overtime.
For most of the game, Luke Hughes played through an injury he sustained on an early shift. He played over 24 minutes despite clearly struggling. He only had two shots on goal. Not having the Devils top prospect as a scoring threat hurt Team USA. Maybe Nate Leaman made a mistake using him so much.
Of all the defensemen, Tyler Kleven stood out. His physicality and edge was notable. The Ottawa future looks like a rugged player who should help bolster that blue line. Kleven enters his junior year at North Dakota.
With time running down in the third, Leaman pulled Mbereko for an extra skater. They went six-on-five. However, after a face-off win by Thomas Bordeleau, Hughes tried to go through the middle up top. It was easily intercepted by Kulich for an unassisted empty netter at 58:28.
A visibly frustrated Hughes broke his stick on the net. You couldn’t blame him. It was a tough moment for a player who looks to have a high ceiling like older brother Jack Hughes. He fought hard throughout. It just wasn’t Team USA’s night.
The thing about this tournament is it doesn’t matter what you do in Group play. Once it gets to the knockout stage, anything can happen. As long as you qualify, that’s a great chance to make something happen.
Upsets are possible. That same day, Switzerland gave Canada a game. They lost 6-3. But anyone that watched knows it was competitive and wide open. It wasn’t over until the empty netter. Even Latvia was even with Sweden until their best player Emil Andrae scored off a face-off for the winner with over 10 minutes left. The defenseman looks to have a bright future in Philadelphia.
You never know. Czech was down 4-0 to Canada in the semis before they made it interesting with two goals in the third. Eventually, Canada put it away. Finland, who was clearly better than rival Sweden, only managed to beat Jesper Wallstedt once. It was enough to hold up as the only goal in their semifinal.
This wasn’t as good a WJC. Not having Russia hurt along with the schedule. When you factor in how expensive tickets were due to the pandemic, it made for a lot of empty seats until the final. Hockey Canada needed this tournament more than some of the players who dropped out to get ready for NHL training camp.
Regardless what your opinion is on Russia, it’s ridiculous to penalize young athletes for the gross actions of a lunatic. That kind of thinking is flawed and comes off xenophobic. Ditto for Wimbledon earlier this summer.
I heard a well respected TSN broadcaster question whether Matvei Michkov should go second behind Connor Bedard in the 2023 Draft because he’s, “Russian.” It didn’t come off well. Sometimes, no words are better. We don’t tune into these games for biased opinions. Leave that stuff alone.
As far as the WJC, congrats to all the players who competed and its organizers. As usual, the medal ceremony was outstanding. You had Canadian players embracing Finnish players. That was fantastic. Plus the winners singing O’ Canada along with the crowd.
Here is the media All-Star Team.
G Jesper Wallstedt, Sweden 🇸🇪
D Olen Zellweger, Canada 🇨🇦
D Emil Andrae, Sweden 🇸🇪
F Mason McTavish, Canada 🇨🇦
F Joakim Kemell, Finland 🇫🇮
F Jan Mysak, Czechia 🇨🇿
Most Valuable Player Mason McTavish, Canada 🇨🇦
IIHF Directorate Awards
Best Goalkeeper: Jesper Wallstedt, Sweden 🇸🇪
Best Defender: Kasper Puutio, Finland 🇫🇮
Best Forward: Mason McTavish, Canada 🇨🇦