In a tidy conclusion to the preliminary phase of the world junior championship, Canada completely out-classed Finland, skating away with a 4-1 victory on New Year’s Eve.
Dylan Cozens led the way in Canada’s first real test of the tournament, scoring twice, while Dylan Holloway and Peyton Krebs also added to their goal hauls. Meanwhile, Devon Levi remained superb in net for the Canadians, making 18 saves.
As winners of the group, the Canadians will meet the fourth-seeded Czech Republic in the opening round of the knockout phase.
While the final score was hardly spectacular, this was easily Canada’s most impressive victory, maybe the best performance of any team in the tournament, and the strongest evidence to suggest that the host nation remains the clear favourite to win gold.
Unlike Germany, Slovakia and Switzerland, Finland is a legitimate medal threat and enduring power nation. But Canada managed to reduce them into something that resembled those three previous opponents — even if Finland seemed to wake up in the third period.
The forecheck for Canada was simply overwhelming, continually frustrating standouts on the Finnish back end like Ville Heinola and Topi Niemela. Conversely, the Canadians’ defensive prowess was indomitable, preventing the Finns from ever settling into an offensive structure. These two facets working in conjunction was the foundation behind one of the most puck-dominant pair of periods in the tournament from the Canadians, who led 35-7 on the shot clock after 40 minutes.
The demoralization on the part of the Finns only seemed to dissipate when Brad Lambert converted on a late power-play try, taking advantage of one of the few mistakes the Canadians committed in the game. That goal, it seemed, prevented the game from taking on a far more lopsided feel.
Follow his lead
It’s been an incredible tournament so far for the co-captain Cozens. The first-round draft selection of the Buffalo Sabres, who leads the tournament in points as of this writing, has to this point been at the centre of everything for Canada. This was no different in the team’s outstanding performance versus Finland.
Cozens opened the scoring versus the Finns in a moment that might exist as a window into what he can provide the Sabres at the next level. Using his length to force the turnover and mastery with the puck to corral it while engineering momentum up ice, Cozens turns a small mistake from Finnish defender Eemil Viro into a lighting-quick counterstrike. After creating space with his speed and chosen route, Cozens uses his body positioning and eyes to sell the idea that he’ll pass before turning over the blade and firing it inside the short-side post.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) December 31, 2020
For me, this sequence from Cozens looks an awful lot like something we would see from Mark Stone, who has become one of the very best forwards in the NHL without necessarily wowing with combine-style measurables like straight-line speed or shot velocity. Like Stone, Cozens’ best quality seems to be his incredible grasp of the game and how his capabilities fit within it, and he uses that knowledge to command the ice and the happenings around him.
It felt that way again on Holloway’s second-period goal when Cozens seemed to extend the offensive-zone pressure with his presence alone, before the exciting prospect provided a fitting conclusion to the game, doggedly winning puck battles through the neutral zone to ice the game into an empty net.
— David Nestico (@davidnestico200) January 1, 2021
Buffalo has a good one in Cozens. And so does Canada in the tournament.
Do it again, Devon
This remains one of the least intriguing goaltending situations in world junior history for Canada — because Devon Levi just coolly has it on lock. Beaten only once and on a shot that was deflected at point-blank range, Levi again looked like the backbone of a title-winning nation versus the Finns, denying the few good chances had against him.
There has barely been a single mention of either Dylan Garand or Taylor Gauthier since Levi was given the third period off versus the Germans in the tournament opener, simply because the unheralded seventh-round selection of the Florida Panthers hasn’t allowed it.
Not all good news
Canada was mostly working from the blender when it came to their forward lines after No. 2 centre Alex Newhook left with what appeared to be a shoulder injury.
It’s a good thing that this is one of the deepest Canadian teams in memory, and that a prospect like Quinton Byfield can step into that role, because this team may have now lost a second member of the top six in addition to Kirby Dach’s injury in the pre-tournament win over Russia.
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