EDMONTON — We keep saying it, as the 2021 world junior hockey championship grinds lopsidedly towards its conclusion. “THIS will be a true test for Canada.” And when we smoke Finland by three goals we point to Russia:
“OK, but THIS team will be a true test.”
Canada rolled into the gold-medal game with a decisive shellacking of Team Russia, a nation that is supposed to be able to play with our boys but barely caused them to break a rhetorical sweat. In the end, Mother Russia was outscored 5-0 and outshot 35-28 in one of the more lopsided Canada-Russia games ever to play out at a world juniors — or anywhere, for that matter.
Remember Russian goalie Ilya Bryzgalov at the 2010 Olympics, when he said that Team Canada had come out “like gorillas out of a cage?”
Well, it was 1-0 just 59 seconds into Monday’s semi-final when Alex Newhook rifled a shot home with such speed, no one in the building saw its flight under the crossbar. Video replay was required to confirm the snipe, and the rout was on.
“Canada always has a good team,” said defeated Russian Mikhail Abramov. “I can say we just had a bad start…”
The score was 3-0 after 20 minutes, and with only one contest left to play the Canadians have yet to trail in a game for even a second. Nor has Canada surrendered a five-on-five goal yet in this tournament. They have outscored their opponents 33-0 at even strength, 41-4 overall.
This unbeaten Canadian team, it seems, is as good as any we’ve sent to this tournament — maybe ever.. Now, we’ll see if they can finish a perfect 7-0 tournament, with the gold-medal game set for Tuesday night at 9:30 ET against Team USA.
Head coach Andre “Bear” Tourigny has been a Canadian assistant coach at four previous tournaments, winning gold last year after a pair of silvers and a fourth place finish.
He knows what awaits in Tuesday night’s gold-medal game, an evening of hockey that will be burned into Team Canada’s collective memory for the rest of their lives.
“It’s a lot of pressure, and a lot of emotion in that tournament,” Tourigny said. “You want to be in the last game. You see your players putting their hearts into it every day, working extremely hard… You want to be part of something special, and that last game will be something special.”
It can be special. It can also be heart breaking.
“I’ve been on both sides of that game, and the right side is way more fun,” he said after the semi-final win. “Let’s keep working at it. We have a lot of business still to do.”
This will be Canada’s 15th appearance in a gold-medal game in the past 20 tournaments.
Shutout Shout Out
The 28-save performance was goalie Devon Levi’s third shutout of this WJC — in just six games — tying the record set by Canadian Justin Pogge in Vancouver back in 2006. Pogge would go on to play most of his career in Europe, enjoying just seven National Hockey League games. He currently resides in Leon Draisaitl’s hometown, minding the nets for the Cologne Sharks.
“I’ll always remember it. The group of guys we had, closing out that final game in GM Place. It was surreal,” the Maple Leafs draft pick told me once, in the book “Road to Gold — The Untold Story of Canada at the World Juniors.” “I’ll always be so proud when I get to tell my son those stories, and he can see the tournament. See how big of a deal it is.”
What’s it like challenging Pogge’s shutout record?
“I’m not playing for a shutout record. I’m playing for a gold medal,” Levi said. “It’s something maybe to look at after the tournament. The job’s not done yet.”
He’s playing fantastic, smothering pucks and giving up nothing to the opposition shooters. Remember, Levi only ever played Junior A hockey, and has yet to play his first game for Northeastern University.
Is this the best zone he has ever been in?
“Ummmm, I think so,” he wondered. “I’m just playing hockey and every game feels the same — whether it’s in Junior A, Midget or one of these games. The back checking is unreal. It’s amazing to see how much help that every guy on the ice is giving.”
He’s a household name now, Devon Levi. Then again, so was Justin Pogge.
“The best feeling is being able to represent my country,” said Levi, who has a .975 save percentage and a 0.53 goals-against average. “Going out and play the game I love. That’s what it is about for me.”