It hasn’t been an easy road for Team Canada at this year’s World Junior Championships, but by virtue of their 3-2 win over the Americans on New Year’s Eve, the young Canucks clinched first place in Group A and also appear to have a much easier road through the medal round.
The Canadians continued their trend of giving up the first goal, this time 3 minutes into the second period as Riley Barber got the US on the board. Anthony Mantha set up Nic Petan for the equalizer nine minutes later as the Canadians dominated the second period after the US had the edge in the first. Connor McDavid and Curtis Lazar scored just over 2 minutes apart early in the third to put Canada ahead 3-1 and a Stefan Matteau goal late in the third made for a tight final 3 minutes but Canada got the much needed regulation win.
Montreal Canadiens goaltending prospect Zach Fucale was tremendous in the first period and held the fort late as he made a couple of great saves on USA breakaways in the third to maintain the lead. Other good performances were turned in by Lazar, Jonathan Drouin as well as Griffin Reinhart, who suited up for his first game of the tournament after serving the final 3 games of a 4 game suspension earned at last year’s tournament. His return to the lineup cannot be understated and a big reason why Canada had a more well rounded game.
The win sets up a quarterfinal match with Switzerland on Thursday, with the winner to play the winner of the quarterfinal between the Finns and the Czech Republic.
The US, meanwhile, gets the Russians in the Quarterfinal and will then face the winner of Sweden and Slovakia should they get past that game.
Just goes to show how vital the first seed is, and how close Canada came to making life very difficult for themselves. Despite the fact that they lost to the Czech Republic in the round robin, facing them or Finland in the semis (assuming a win over the Swiss) is a less daunting task than lining up against Sweden.