Sebastian Aho killed Canada (Photo by Markku Ulander/AFP/Getty Images)
A young squad ran into penalty troubles against Finland and it wasn't the first time that happened at the tournament. Now a team that can return a lot of big names next year looks to regroup.
HELSINKI, FINLAND - In a perfect world, Canada would have played the same way in the final two periods of the quarterfinal as it did in the first 19 minutes of the game against Finland: smart, responsible hockey. One penalty taken, one penalty killed off.
But that's not how things went down at Hartwall Arena on Saturday night. Canada racked up the infractions in the second and third periods, giving Finland's lethal snipers too many opportunities and taking out important players such as Joe Hicketts and Mitch Marner at the wrong times. On top of that, the game turned into a track meet and Finland had more, well, finish.
“You gotta adapt to the game," said center Travis Konecny. "As soon as they went ahead, we had to push back and started to change our game. We had to start pressing harder and taking some risks. End of the day, we played hard, but at the same time, losing for us isn't acceptable.”
This may have been a lot less shocking than it sounds on paper. Canada, out in the quarterfinal? A rare occurrence in the past two decades. But coach Dave Lowry never seemed to get his troops all going in the same direction and I'm sure his decision to leave in goalie Mackenzie Blackwood for all six goals will be questioned. Especially since Finnish bench boss Jukka Jalonen yanked starter Veini Vehvilainen midway through the contest and got great results from Minnesota Wild pick Kaapo Kahkonen thereafter.
“We wanted to come out and show them what we had and we did that," said power forward Lawson Crouse. "We wanted to score the first goal and we did that. Things went from there and obviously it didn't end the way we wanted.”
Overall, this was a young team by Canada's standards and it showed. Even the brightest lights, such as Marner and Dylan Strome, were guilty of taking unnecessary penalties against Finland, off-setting some fantastic offensive play by Marner in particular.
Perhaps having only four returning players from last year's golden squad hurt more than we had anticipated. But it does bring up an interesting debate about development timelines. We see the crazy amount of points players such as Strome and Marner put up in junior and assume they are on the cusp of the NHL. But Jake Virtanen came from the Vancouver Canucks and had a disappointing tournament. And the other two players still look like they need to round out their games and get stronger before they tangle with the best men in the world.
And that's not a knock. These are teenagers - elite ones at that, but still teenagers.
With the tournament back in Canada next year (Toronto and Montreal split it again), there could be as many as nine returning players to the squad, including Marner, Strome, Julien Gauthier and Matt Barzal. Simply look at the way Sweden has been steamrolling teams with a veteran lineup in Helsinki for proof of the model.
While that provides no solace right now, it does provide motivation and that was one of the first things the players talked about after the loss to Finland. Konecny, one of Canada's best players throughout the tournament, is another one of the skaters eligible to return and that's exactly how he framed the situation:
"Remember the feeling," he said.
It's a bitter lesson to learn on the first night of the medal round, but if Canada takes it to heart, there's no reason to doubt a home-ice revenge plot next year in Montreal.