While many other sixteen and seventeen year-old boys are off discovering the joys of a first job, a first car, and many other firsts this summer, there are some who have traveled to Slovakia where they are representing Canada on the ice. The Ivan Hlinka Tournament is currently being played in Piestany, Slovakia - where the Canadians have made memories once before - but the U-18 team is currently making the country proud as they march towards a gold medal. Canada is looking at a semi-final game already after having cruised through the round-robin portion of the tournament. We'll take a look at how they got to the semi-finals, and who they will be playing.
Canada opened the round-robin on Monday with a 6-3 defeat of Sweden. It didn't look very good in the middle frame as Sweden had built a 3-1 lead over the team in red, but the Canadians stormed back with five unanswered goals to secure the victory. Daniel Catenacci had a pair of goals in the win, but head coach George Burnett felt that the team needed this kind of win to prepare them for the rest of the tournament.
"We had a good start, we scored the first goal early but I think we ran into some lessons-to-be-learned," Burnett stated matter-of-factly to The Canadian Press. "We took seven stick penalties so we've got to tidy that up.
"Most of them were from being on the wrong side of the puck or trying to use your stick to check which doesn't work well in events like this, so they got some power-play goals. But we made some adjustments in the second period... and we got some good transition turnovers from some back pressure which was essential against a team that plays with the puck possession that these guys do and we turned some of those into goals."
Canada's winning ways wouldn't get any time off as they entered Tuesday with a date against Switzerland, a team who seems to play its best hockey against the Canadians. Canada went up 2-0 just 2:34 into the game, and never looked back as they led 2-1 after the first period, and 6-2 after the second period. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins recorded a hat trick against the Swiss, and Brett Ritchie notched a pair in pacing Canada to the win. Tyson Teichmann made 21 saves for his second victory of the tournament. Coach Burnett liked what he saw from his team on Tuesday.
"Our game was better today so I think I can comfortably say that we've gotten better every day since camp," Burnett told The Canadian Press in a phone interview. "That's the big challenge – that you try to be better every day."
It was discovered that several of the Team Canada players have been suffering with the flu, so their Wednesday game against the host Slovakian team may have proved tougher than the Slovaks' 0-2 record showed. Canada fought through the illness, and prevailed with a 6-1 victory over Slovakia. Boone Jenner scored twice in the victory, and it was far more lopsided than the exhibition game that these two teams played. Canada squeaked by with a 3-2 overtime win in that game last Saturday.
The big win for Canada also allowed the Canadian coaching staff to sit a few of the players who had been suffering from the flu. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and defenceman Ryan Murray were given a chance to watch the third period from the bench as they look to rebound from the flu bug for their semi-final game.
With the standings settled after the round-robin, there were a few surprises to report:
- Monday saw Finland defeat the Russians by a 3-2 score after a shootout. It was not the way that the Russians wanted to start, and it put them behind the eight-ball.
- The Russians rallied on Tuesday to beat Team USA by a 6-5 score in overtime. While Russia needed a regulation win, any win was better than no win at all.
- The Americans finished first in Pool A after defeating the Czech Republic 3-2 on Monday and by defeating the Finns 5-2 on Wednesday. That overtime loss to the Russians wouldn't come into play in terms of tie-breaking scenarios after all.
- The Czechs, on the other hand, beat the Russians on Wednesday by a 3-2 score. That bumped the Russians out of the medal round, and into the fifth-place game. That game against Finland, who will play for seventh-place, was definitely a massive loss.
That means that Finland and Slovakia will battle for seventh-place, and Russia and Switzerland will battle for fifth-place. The medal round sees Team USA take on Sweden for a berth in the gold medal game, while Canada tangles with the Czech Republic for the right to play for gold.
Canadian head coach George Burnett thinks that the Czechs will be a good test for his squad on Friday. "They're a very competitive team, they really pressured hard,” Burnett told The Canadian Press. "There's no passive play at all. It was very aggressive and it's nice that we know that now.
"I'm sure there'll be a home crowd contingent as well."
That "home crowd contingent" Burnett speaks of is the crowd in Breclav, Czech Republic. The medal-round game shifts to the Czech Republic, providing the Canadians with a little more adversity to deal with in their quest for a gold medal. If they continue to play well, though, they should be able to advance to the gold medal game on Saturday.
All in all, it appears that several Canadian sixteen and seventeen year-old boys will return from Europe with some hardware this summer. All that remains to be seen is which colour of medal they return with. That being said, the hardest game lies in front of them on Friday against the Czech Republic. GO CANADA GO!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!