Canada has never lost a game to USA in the World Junior Championship and gone on to win a gold medal. That will have to change if Canada wants to win gold this time around.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that the prospect of playing the rest of the World Junior Championship without defenseman Philippe Myers is the least of Canada’s worries because, in reality, it’s a pretty big one. A defense corps that was suspect to begin with has potentially lost its biggest member, one who was logging big minutes on the top pairing.
But after its 3-1 loss to USA in the final round-robin game before moving on to Montreal for the playoff round, Canada has plenty about which to be concerned going into its quarterfinal game against the Czech Republic Monday night. Start with the fact that if this team has designs on winning this tournament, it will have to do something no Canadian team has ever done before. Going into Saturday’s game, Canada had lost eight times to USA in this tournament and not once has it gone on to win a gold medal. In fact, losses in the WJC to the Americans have resulted in some of the most disastrous finishes ever for Canada – twice they went on to finish sixth, once seventh and once eighth.
And it will likely have to do it without Myers, who was at the receiving end of a thunderous and controversial hit from American captain Luke Kunin early in the second period. As he was gathering a puck behind his net, Kunin delivered a hit that sent Myers into the glass. He left the game and did not return and his chances of returning anytime in the tournament are in question.
“He is concussed and his chances of playing in the next game are zero,” Canadian coach Dominique Ducharme said of Myers. “He’s doubtful for the rest of the tournament. He might come back late in the tournament.”
Kunin, a first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2016, could be suspended for USA’s quarterfinal game Monday night in Toronto. The International Ice Hockey Federation will definitely review the hit, but it’s not known whether there will be a hearing. For his part, Kunin said he was making a hockey play that turned out badly.
“People are going to think a lot of different ways about it,” Kunin said. “I just thought it was a hockey play. I was kind of surprised I got a game, but it is what it is and we just have to move on from that. I saw him coming around the net and I had a chance to play the body, make a hockey play, a hit. It’s part of my game to play physical. But I had no intention of hitting him high or hurting him or anything like that.”
Thomas Chabot, who had been Myers’ defense partner to that point in the tournament, had a very different version of the events. Kunin is listed at 5-foot-11, Myers is 6-foot-5. “When I saw the replay, I saw the guy have his feet probably a foot off the ground,” Chabot said. “Everyone knows Phil is probably 6-foot-8 with his skates on and to get hit to the head, you have to jump or do something.”
Going into the game, it would not have been a stretch to expect one team to set a physical tone and feast on the power play, but it seemed more likely that Canada, not the Americans would be the team to do that. Canada had all sorts of problems establishing anything at even strength and scored only once on five power plays and that came with a 5-on-3 advantage. USA meanwhile, scored on its first two power plays and was definitely the more physical team. They also snuffed out Canada at every opportunity 5-on-5.
The Canadians were disjointed for much of the game, going offside repeatedly and failing to penetrate the offensive zone. It was something Canadian captain Dylan Strome acknowledged has to improve. The Canadian team was slow and sloppy and made a number of questionable decisions with the puck.
“It’s no secret that we haven’t been the best 5-on-5 team in the tournament,” Strome said. “We have to find a way to create more. We have kind of been surviving on our power play and tonight our power play wasn’t clicking at 100 percent, so we have to find a way to create more 5-on-5. We haven’t been in sync and we have to find a way to be better. They played a great neutral zone game. They chipped pucks past our ‘D’ and I don’t think we did a good enough job of doing that to them.”
And at the risk of sounding harsh commenting on teenagers, Canada is going to need more from some of its forwards. Taylor Raddysh, who feasted on Latvia with four goals, failed to register a single shot on goal. Third overall pick Pierre-Luc Dubois has yet to score in the tournament and appeared frustrated when he took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the game.
And if Myers can’t play, they’re going to need to replace him by committee. Only Chabot has logged more ice time for Canada. Kale Clague was moved up to take Myers’ spot with mixed results. “I talked to (Myers) after the game and he said he told me he was feeling better, he was feeling good,” Chabot said. “Hopefully we’ll see him in the lineup, but if not everyone is going to have to step up.”