What are the stakes tonight?
“They’re huge,” said Team Canada centre Alex Newhook. “We know what’s on the line. We know the opponent we’re playing is a really good opponent and they’ve had a good tournament so far. We’ll have to bring our A game if we want to take the group.”
A win and Canada takes top spot in Group A and faces the Czech Republic, fourth place in Group B, on Saturday. A loss leads to a knockout-stage date with either the United States or Sweden.
Team Canada spent one hour and 15 minutes on the ice yesterday, but after only 30 minutes of drills Andre Tourigny allowed his players to work on individual skills and have some fun. The coach said most of the adjustments at this stage of the tournament will be made through video sessions and chats with players.
“I like where our guys are at,” Tourigny said. “They’re all business. They’re smiling, but they’re all business. I can feel a good vibe, good prep, you can see it in their eyes, but at the same time they’re not tight. They’re ready for the competition.”
Team Canada has outscored the opposition 29-3 at the World Juniors while not trailing for even a second through three games. But they haven’t faced an opponent like the Finns, who are the only other undefeated team at the tournament.
“They’re a pretty fast group,” said Phil Tomasino, who has four goals and two assists despite skating in a fourth-line role. “We haven’t seen that type of speed the last few games so it’ll be a good challenge. We’re ready. We’ve watched a lot of video and prepared really well for it.”
“The last couple games it’s really been us taking it to them and the other team sitting back,” noted Jets first rounder Cole Perfetti. “Finland, they’re a crazy-skilled team and it will be a really good battle. It’s going to be good for us, heading into the medal round, to play a team like Finland to get us prepared and get us to tune-up on the defensive side of the game and stuff we haven’t had to work on as much the last couple of games.”
Team Canada will have to pay close attention to Finnish captain Anton Lundell who’s posted six points and leads the tournament in face-off percentage.
“They are the best team in face-offs in the tournament,” said Tourigny, “so they are a puck-possession team and they start with face-offs so we will have a good challenge on our face-offs tonight. We want to be a puck-possession team as well.”
When Tourigny shuffled his lines ahead of the Switzerland game on Tuesday, Perfetti and Newhook ended up together on a line with Peyton Krebs.
“It’s nice to play with Newy,” said Perfetti. “It was a lot of fun. Growing up I always played against him and that was the first time I played on a line with him.”
“Me and Perf have been close for a while,” said Newhook. “Playing against him, I’ve seen the stuff he can do with the puck and it’s fun to watch, but more fun to be a part of. When I moved to Ontario I played against him for two years there in the ETA [Eastern AAA Hockey] and OMHA [Ontario Minor Hockey Association] so great battles with him. We have a good relationship going and that chemistry will help moving forward.”
Newhook was born in St. John’s, but moved to Ontario at age 14 to further his hockey career. And playing with the York Simcoe Express allowed Newhook to form a relationship with former NHL goalie Curtis Joseph, who posted a supportive message on Twitter this week. The tweet included a video of Newhook scoring on Joseph on a breakaway.
— Alex Newhook (@AlexNewhook_) December 31, 2020
“I actually played with his son for two years and me and Luke are best buddies so I got to know Curtis a bit. He’s a great guy and I did get him once in a shootout so that’s something I’ll take with me forever. We’ve stayed in touch over the years and for him to put that out is pretty funny. He’s a down-to-earth guy and I’m really fortunate to have met him.”
Joseph provided Newhook with insight on how a goalie sees things.
“It was kind of cool, actually,” Newhook recalled. “I’ve learned a lot from him life-wise just kind of asking questions about his path and what he’s gone through and then, from a goalie’s perspective, yeah, he kind of told me a bit of how he thought about guys coming down on shootouts and he helped me a bit on shootouts.”
Team Canada has scored 29 goals at the World Juniors with four coming off the stick of a defenceman. Moncton’s Jordan Spence, a healthy scratch in all but one game so far, and Mississauga’s Thomas Harley have potted one each while Prince Albert’s Kaiden Guhle has a pair. Guhle, a Canadiens prospect, scored on a rocket from the point during Tuesday’s win over the Swiss and said he worked hard on his shot during the lengthy pandemic pause.
“You can never shoot enough pucks so whenever I got asked to go shoot on goalies for goalie ice I did it,” Guhle explained, “or just going out in the summer time and putting down some plastic ice and a net, I tried to do that.”
— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) December 30, 2020
The smooth-skating Guhle, who brings a physical presence to Canada’s blueline, has worked hard in recent years to improve his offensive game. Last season, he posted 40 points in 64 games, which was a 23-point increase over the previous campaign.
“It was about puck skills and being more confident with the puck and allowing more things to open up,” he explained in a summer interview with TSN.
Ryan Suzuki scored his first World Juniors goal in his first game on Boxing Day, which led to a funny message from brother Nick Suzuki.
“He texted me and said, ‘At least one of us has a goal in this tournament!’ So he was pretty good about it. But whenever I talk to him it’s usually about other stuff and not hockey.”
The Montreal Canadiens centre produced three assists in five games in Vancouver as Canada lost in the quarterfinals at the 2019 World Juniors. Ryan, meanwhile, is now up to two goals this year in Edmonton.
Team USA forward Arthur Kaliyev has used the same bizarre tape job on his stick since he was 13. There’s almost no tape on the blade and almost an entire roll at the the top of the stick.
“It is brutal,” said teammate Trevor Zegras. “His stick weighs 50 pounds maybe and nobody really knows why he tapes his stick like that. He told me it feels like a tennis racquet, his knob, so whatever that means. Pretty crazy. Never seen anything like that.”
TSN pressed Kaliyev for an explanation.
“I just liked it better than using a full blade,” he said. “I just liked it, that’s all. I just like how it feels. I prefer less tape.”
OK, and how about all the tape up top?
“I got the idea from a tennis racquet. I liked the feel so I started using it on my stick.”
Kaliyev scored 44 goals in 57 games with Hamilton of the Ontario Hockey League last season so it’s hard to question his approach.
“People are shocked at first,” he said. “They think it’s crazy, but whatever works for me.”
Projected Team Canada line-up:
Holloway – McMichael – Cozens
Perfetti – Newhook – Krebs
Quinn- Byfield – Pelletier
Mercer – Suzuki – Tomasino
Byram – Drysdale
Harley – Schneider
Guhle – Barron
Projected Team Finland line-up:
Hirvonen – Lundell – Simontaival
Pyyhtiä – Pärssinen – Lambert
Järventie – Nikkanen – Räty
Korhonen – Helenius – Petman
Hatakka – Heinola
Kokkonen – Puutio
Viro – Niemelä