There’s a chance that Canada could play the U.S. in the gold medal game of the 2021 World Junior Championship, but that’s down the road. Let’s talk about how they got past the quarterfinals first and what lies ahead.
Spencer Knight has been terrific. The U.S. has set a World Juniors record for the longest team shutout streak at 218:53. Their goalie tandem is strong; we’ve talked about that, and honestly, it’s better that the streak was snapped against Slovakia; they moved past it.
Their defense has been good pushing the puck up the ice and managing the puck around the edges and not doing anything too chancy in the middle of the ice. Jake Sanderson was victimized once on a blind pass, but that’s hopefully out of his system now. Cam York has been quietly fantastic, and the rest of the unit has been equally good with Drew Helleson (Avalanche) proving to be an excellent partner for Sanderson at times during games.
Matt Beniers (2021 draft-eligible) played the most minutes for any forward on his team, and he was rewarded with that empty-net goal. He played the most minutes in the first period, and then it seemed like his usage dropped in the second, and he got a lot in the third again. He’s the best all-around player on the team. His skating is amazing, and he could be a bigger key than Bobby Brink or John Farinacci (Coyotes), who has been terrific as well.
If the U.S. doesn’t give up on my shift and play to the buzzer, they should win their game.
Everything is coming up roses for them so far. They’ve had the easiest path, but that’s about to change. They were never in danger of losing to the Czech Republic in their 3-0 win.
Playing Russia means solving Yaroslav Askarov (Preds). Dylan Cozens (Sabres) has been one of the best players in the tournament. Russia will try and shut him down, but if they do, that opens the door to Dylan Holloway, Connor McMichael who’s quietly been great. The Capitals prospect is inching closer to becoming an NHL player as is Cozens and definitely for blueliner, Bowen Byram (Avalanche). Defenseman, Kaiden Guhle (Canadiens) has come on lately and staring to add more offense. He can be very physical, and you need that against Russia.
Canada has gone with one goalie up to this point. Devon Levi, (Panthers) a Canadian Jr. A player who now is at Northeastern, and he has the best save percentage in the tournament. He has made the few big saves a game that he has needed to, but he hasn’t been “battle” tested. He will be tested by the Russians who will be buzzing in the offensive zone and they do a nice job of getting goalies to move post-to-post.
This game is a toss-up because of Askarov. He could be the reason they win but he won’t be the reason if they should lose. Canada is the clear favorite in the game.