PIESTANY, Slovakia – The Canadian under-18 hockey team was a pretty disappointed group when it left last year’s Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament.
This year’s team has taken a big step to experiencing a much better feeling.
Garrett Mitchell scored the winning goal and added an assist Wednesday as Canada edged defending champion Sweden 4-3.
Canada lost a round robin game to the Swedes last year before finishing fourth at the event. This year’s team was expecting a tough game.
“We knew coming into this one that this was going to be a game that we had to win,” said Mitchell. “I think we stepped up to the plate.”
Added Canadian coach Bill Peters: “Our guys responded with their best effort of the tournament.”
Taylor Hall, Casey Cizikas and Cody Eakin also had goals for Canada (2-0), while goaltender Nathan Lieuwen made 20 saves to pick up his second win of the tournament.
Patrik Cehlin, Jacob Josefson and Magnus Paajarvi replied for Sweden (1-1). Robin Lehner made 47 saves in a losing cause.
Even though Canada dominated the shots clock, it still found itself in a tight game. Mitchell gave his team some breathing room when he scored the eventual winner on a breakaway at 17:36 of the third period.
“I went forehand-backhand and put it upstairs,” said Mitchell, who was named Canada’s player of the game. “It’s a good feeling. I kind of put a cap on it.”
Mitchell’s line with Eakin and Cizikas was in on three of the team’s four goals.
They hadn’t been counted on for much scoring up to this point because the Canadian team is pretty deep offensively.
“There’s a lot of skill throughout the lineup – up front and on the backend,” said Peters. “When you’re taking the best 22 players in your country, you’re going to end up with some skill.
“And we’ve got plenty of that.”
Canada wraps up the round robin portion of the event against Slovakia on Thursday. A win in that game will advance them straight to Saturday’s gold-medal final.
While that remains the team’s ultimate goal, there are many other benefits that come from just experiencing an international event. The Canadian players have been in Europe for almost a week now and are enjoying the chance to see a different culture.
“Just even flying over here was a neat experience for me,” said Mitchell.
He and his teammates are one step closer to flying home with some gold medals.