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World Junior Championship: Three Stars From Dec. 28

It was all Canada in a big victory over Austria on Tuesday, the lone game of the World Junior Championship. That meant a couple of big-name players had exceptional nights, including a 16-year-old often paired with the word "exceptional".

With Team USA dealing with a COVID situation and being forced to forfeit their game against the Swiss, Canada's 11-2 victory is what stole the show on Day 3 in Alberta. 

Picking three stars from this game felt almost unfair as the Canadians were clicking on offense. Through just the first 20 minutes of the contest, 14 different Canadian players had registered a point in a five-goal first period. It was an easy win for Canada, but the story quickly shifted to the youngest player on the team, and that is...

First Star - W Connor Bedard | Canada

Was it going to be anyone other than the 16-year-old phenom? 

Bedard took advantage of a night where he was given a bit more ice-time, scoring four goals which tied a Canadian record at the World Juniors. Did I mention that Bedard is 16 years old? The electrifying young Canadian was dancing early in this game, using his elite-level puck skill to make a few Austrian defenders look silly as he put the puck through his legs to evade pressure and get a chance in tight. In another instance, he walked an opponent by shoulder faking to the outside before cutting inside on his edges and then beating the other defenseman with pure skill. Neither of those plays led to a goal. He was on from start to finish.

His first goal of the night came on the powerplay late in the first period. Settling down in a pocket in the slot, Bedard got a pass from Jake Neighbours and took a shot that was stopped but Bedard being the intelligent and persistent player that he is, banged in his own rebound. Just over a minute later, Bedard finished a nice little passing play with Elliot Desnoyers as the two Canadian forwards burst into the offensive zone with the Austrian defense on their backs. The strength and skill that Bedard displayed on this play epitomized why he is one of the best players on the Candian roster despite his youth.

His hat-trick goal came early in the second period. Bedard collected the puck after a scrum faceoff and wound up before darting down the slot. With quick hands, he pulled the puck away from a defender before beating the Austrian netminder clean with an excellent shot. In the third period, Bedard showed off his ability around the net front. Battling two Austrian defenders in front of the net to gain position, he got a sweet feed from Mavrik Bourque that he redirected into the net. Four goals, four different ways. If anyone was doubting Bedard’s ability, they shouldn’t be now.

Bedard had to force his way onto this team. He wasn’t just given a spot despite his incredible talent and raw abilities on the ice. There was no question about whether he belonged on the team after an absolutely outstanding evaluation camp and he’s done nothing but solidify his spot in the lineup at the tournament. It’s safe to say that Bedard will be getting some increased ice-time going forward, and he’s earned it. To put the icing on the cake, he became the first 16-year-old to score a hat trick at the World Juniors since Wayne Gretzky did it in 1977.

Second Star - F Cole Perfetti | Canada

Perfetti has been one of Canada’s best forwards throughout their two games and his play in this one was absolutely exceptional. He was the driving force for the offense on the Canadian top line and now leads the tournament in scoring with six points through the two contests, three in each game. Perfetti’s incredible vision and manipulation of his opponents gives him the ability to play the game at a slower pace than the high octane offensive players such as Connor Bedard. Perfetti’s brilliance is truly that he is always one of the smartest players on the ice.

His assist on the game's opening goal put that on full display as he had the puck on the half-wall on the powerplay, moving down in the zone and showing off that he was in a shooting position before threading a pass cross-seam to Kent Johnson for a perfectly set up one-timer. Just seconds into the third period, Perfetti got on the board himself. Taking advantage of a turnover in the offensive zone, the Winnipeg Jets’ prospect was in the right place at the right time, as he always tends to be, and just fired the puck past the Austrian netminder with ease.

What really made the difference for Perfetti in this game though was on full display as he set up Mavrik Bourque for Canada’s eleventh and final goal. Despite the wide margin on the scoreboard, Perfetti was still playing hard and showing solid instincts at both ends of the ice. The Canadian alternate captain forced a turnover in the neutral zone, did a little spin as he collected the puck and then pushed the puck up ice. Gearing down once he reached the faceoff circle, Perfetti’s patience and vision allowed him to find Bourque as the trailing attacker and Bourque made no mistake. Perfetti has been playing solid, smart, and skilled hockey throughout his time with Canada’s U20 team and tonight was no exception.

Third Star - F Mason McTavish | Canada

Often referred to as a man amongst boys, McTavish had a quietly solid game that was lost in all of the Bedard hype. He scored two goals of his own and assisted on the Logan Stankoven goal that really seemed to be the first sign that this game would get out of hand. With his strong, sturdy frame, McTavish has been a force so far at the World Juniors, showcasing elite puck protection ability and a very solid two-way game. His skating improvement over the last two years has been everything a scout and development coach could ask for. McTavish has put that improved mobility to use and shown why he very well could have stuck with the Anaheim Ducks before they sent him back to the OHL.

His first goal came on a cross-crease feed from Dylan Guenther with McTavish unleashing a great shot from a tough angle. The Ducks’ prospect has shown his impressive shot off a number of times at this event but this may have been his best yet. The second goal came off a rebound, potting the bounce from Ronan Seeley’s shot with a burst of speed and excellent timing. Canada has leaned on McTavish in a number of situations and as a leader and the fiery Canadian center has stepped up to the plate each and every time. 

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