VANCOUVER – For the first time at the 2019 world juniors, Canada took a punch in the nose. That’s a metaphor of course, but come to think of it, the New Year’s Eve showdown with Russia did feature a lot of physicality and bad blood between the traditional hockey rivals. In the end, Russia skated away with a 2-1 victory and first place in the pool, handing Canada a harder road towards gold. But better now than in the single-elimination medal round, right?
“Adversity was going to come and we’re happy it came now,” said right winger and Florida Panthers pick Owen Tippett. “We’re going to recharge and get ready for the (next) battle.”
Obviously winning is better than losing in a short tournament, though there is something to be said for the lessons that come in defeat. Canada had pretty much breezed through the round robin and getting a dose of what another top team can bring to the table may help in the long run. On the surface, Canada played a pretty great game against the Russians. The Canucks were fast, physical and generated some A+ scoring chances, but when it came to that last category, Russian goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov was just too good. Kochetkov, who has yet to be drafted by an NHL team, had previously dominated the CHL-Russia series earlier this season and he was on top of his game on New Year’s Eve.
“He was great and his saves gave the team a lot of confidence,” said right winger Grigori Denisenko, another Panthers prospect. “He’s a real man.”
Though the physicality of the game stood out, it’s worth noting that Denisenko believed that the pace was even more of a challenge.
“It was a very fast game, especially mentally,” he said. “You had to make decisions faster.”
In that department, Denisenko’s fellow Florida pick believes Canada can do better in the future.
“We have to figure out a way to get the little lapses out of our game,” Tippett said. “I don’t think we played a full 60 minutes. We sat back a bit in the start.”
From the press box, it sure seemed like Canada played a good game. Sure, Maxime Comtois (Anaheim) needed to dial down his behavior – which included a couple minor penalties, one for diving – but otherwise Canada just ran into a hot goalie. Their own netminder, Vancouver Canucks pick Michael DiPietro, was sharp and defenseman Markus Phillips (Los Angeles) admitted they he took the wrong angle on Pavel Shen when the Boston Bruins pick swooped in on DiPietro for the beautiful game-winning tally.
And this is where Canada gets a reprieve: their tournament does not end with this loss. They’ll get a tougher quarterfinal matchup than Russia because of the setback, but the foundation is still there for a gold medal.
“We’re still going out to play a quarterfinal game,” Phillips said. “Realistically, we were going to face these teams at some point in the tournament.”
Will Canada get another shot at Russia? That would be a hockey lover’s dream, as both teams are loaded with skill, strength and smarts. The Russians love playing on enemy soil and Canada can benefit from playing such a strong team right before the medal round.
Now the mission is to take those lessons and apply them. Because there are no second chances anymore.