LAKE PLACID, NEW YORK – Team Canada’s men’s hockey team is medal-round bound at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games, running a five-game win streak while coming together as a team ahead of more challenging opponents.
With wins over Ukraine, Sweden, and Japan already in the rearview and a first shutout victory, 9-0 against Latvia, Canada looks to a top-of-Group A clash against a strong Czechia team before relocating to Lake Placid’s Herb Brooks Arena for the challenge of the semifinals and finals.
As the team approaches the business stages of the tournament, there’s certainly been some takeaways and learning moments that we’ve seen through the first four games.
There’s not a bad line
After the opening game against Team Ukraine, head coach Gardiner MacDougall stressed just how deep his team is. With how the team has performed through the opening four group games, he’s been spot-on.
Every line has cashed in with multi-goal and multi-point games, and top players such as Canada West and AUS leading scorers Brett Davis and Liam Hawel have delivered as some of the tournament’s top scorers. From lines one through four, there haven’t been many difficulties. While OUA leading-scorer Kyle Bollers hasn’t put up the same offensive numbers as fellow conference leaders, he’s scored twice and been defensively astute on the penalty kill.
Every player on the team now has a point to their name, and all have been contributing to the lineup each game. While a few of the goals against have come from missed marking in the defensive end, it’s overall been a good performance from every defensive pair and offensive line.
However, while some of the more offensive defensemen have thrived in attack, there have been several holes in defence, particularly when Scott Walford and Justin Bergeron get caught out pinching a little too high. Yet their mistakes have been small enough that Canada’s scoring and their offensive outputs gloss over any issues.
On the ultra-positive side of defence, Noah King, Justin MacPherson, and Adam McCormick have been amongst the best defender in the tournament on both sides of the puck.
Seemingly, in each game, a new line stands out. Against Ukraine, Austen Keating, Liam Hawel and Matt Struthers combined for six points, and against Sweden, the line of Simon Lafrance, Jared Dmytriw and Brett Davis combined for nine.
“If we are going to have success, it’s going to come from all four lines,” Hawel said after the Sweden win. “On our teams back home, a lot of us player more than we might here, but it’s better when we have all four lines playing at full energy and full speed.”
There’s a real depth in scoring and defensive effort to the Canadian team, and while they’ve not been pushed to their best yet, there are positive signs heading into tough games against Czechia and the medal rounds.
Struggling to shutout better teams
There’s no doubt that Team Canada has had enough goals to outscore any problems that could ever come their way. Still, ahead of a 9-0 shutout against Latvia in the fourth game, the defence or goaltending seemed to always have one mishap per game, often resulting in a goal, including two against Japan and Sweden and a single against Ukraine.
When Team Canada’s structure faults and allows opposing players time and space, they can punish, and until the game against Latvia, that happens once or twice each night, with the large margin of Canadian victory tarnished by a tally or two from the opponents. As seen in the shot below, the Canadians lost their structure and gave Japan’s Junya Owa a scoring chance which he buried.
It’s taken some time to iron out the starting goalie, as Matt Welsh and Kai Edmonds have both seen themselves named starters, while Roddy Ross has had a single period against Sweden. At this point, it seems as though Edmonds is the one who will lead Canada’s charge to the medal round after impressing through the group stage. Still, the real test will come against the Czechs, who have yet to lose a game and could take the top spot in Group A away from Canada, should they beat Canada on Tuesday and down Ukraine on Wednesday.
They’ve shown better than anyone else, and they’re getting better
“This group is unbelievable; I think it’s the best group I’ve ever played with,” said Queen’s and Canada defenceman Jacob Paquette after Canada’s Tuesday win over Latvia. “Being part of this amazing group is unbelievable, and you can’t really put it into words.”
The simple fact of the matter is Canada hasn’t been pushed, and there may not be a team at the tournament that pushes Canada to its extreme limits. It where Russia not being in the tournament has a sporting impact — it may leave things to Canada, with possibly Kazakhstan and maybe Slovakia presenting a challenge, yet more a mystery.
Looking around the tournament, the teams that have found success on the stats and scoresheet have done so by basing their games on one or two facets, while the Canadian team has shown they can weather simple offensive pressure and attack in a variance of waves.
Team USA has the home support, can score (they put 18 past Team GB), and, of course, has the underdog mentality if they head to Lake Placid. Still, at this point in the tournament, the only team that looks at all threatening to break Canada’s rhythm is Kazakhstan, and even they haven’t looked as astounding as in past tournaments.
Slovakia did beat Team USA, but neither has looked particularly impressive, and both a step behind the Kazakhs, who are running away with Group B.
There’s an old saying coaches tend to lean to when given simpler opponents, “you beat the team that is in front of you,” and that’s exactly what Canada has done while also matching MacDougall’s goals of improving every game.
For the Canadian group, however, the group stage was never the goal; advancing to the semifinals wasn’t the goal, but all eyes were on the gold medal.
“We are getting better as the tournament goes on. Getting a feel of how we play together as a line,” Davis said. “We are building chemistry, and I think the more we play together, the better we will get.”
Team Canada has one more group game and a chance to clinch the top seed in Group A when they take on Czechia at SUNY-Canton at 1:00 pm ET on Wednesday. Should Canada play the early semifinal game at the Herb Brooks Arena, they would make their TSN TV debut, while the gold medal game will be broadcast coast-to-coast on TSN 2