A showcase semifinal between defending champion Finland and perennial contender Canada was expected to be one of the crown jewels of the 2020 World Juniors.
Canada obliterated any notion of this being a competitive game minutes into Saturday’s contest, scoring four first-period goals to defeat Finland 5-0.
Russia defeated Sweden in the first semifinal, allowing Canada a chance to exact a measure of revenge against a team that outright embarrassed them in the round robin.
Here are 5 takeaways from Canada’s rout of Finland.
Full Blown Meltdown
This game had all the trappings of a heavyweight bout as Finland defeated Canada in the 2019 tournament en route to gold, and brought back a loaded defense corps.
Finland underwent a full blown meltdown instead (shoutout to Canadian band PUP) and at the risk of being cliche, it was over before it even got started.
Canada began the onslaught less than two minutes into the game, as Connor McMichael wired a perfectly placed shot through an expert screen from Ty Dellandrea for a 1-0 lead.
The Alexis Lafrenière-Barrett Hayton-Nolan Foote line has arguably been the best line in the tournament and certainly Canada’s best, and they took advantage of a scrambled Finnish defensive pairing on the second goal. Foote found a loose puck, froze the defenders with a shot-fake, which has to be respected at this point, then dished it off to Lafrenière, who scored a highlight-reel goal on a nifty backhand.
Finland called a timeout to try to stop the proverbial bleeding. It didn’t work.
Less than a minute after the timeout Jamie Drysdale walked in uncontested and sniped a laser for a 3-0 lead, and the game was practically over just three minutes and 55 seconds after it began.
Finland’s calamity compounded itself midway through the first period as Sampo Ranta took a 10-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for shooting the puck after the whistle.
Canada’s Ty Dellandrea punctuated the period with an easy goal. Finland’s Justus Annunen, who was arguably the best goaltender in the tournament to date, failed to corral the puck as Aidan Dudas jarred it loose and Dellandrea buried it.
Canada switching this game into "Afternoon Nap" mode is greatly appreciated.— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) January 4, 2020
Finland’s veteran defence and goaltending along with its forward depth was expected to make it a leading contender for the gold medal. The chance of repeating evaporated before some fans could even get settled in.
Alexis Lafrenière’s magical tournament continues
It may sound like a broken record but there’s no way to discuss this game without highlighting Lafrenière’s magical impact on the game. He was the best player on the ice.
As mentioned above, Lafrenière’s highlight-reel goal in the first period helped bury Finland and it’s simply worth watching again, as there was nothing Annunen could do about it.
You simply can’t afford Lafrenière any space at all, especially on the power play. This should’ve been on the scouting report and Lafrenière took full advantage during the second period, squeezing a deadly accurate shot past Annunen’s blocker side.
Canada will face Russia in the gold medal game and it’s worth remembering Lafrenière left the round-robin game between the two teams with what initially appeared to be a brutal knee injury. If Lafrenière continues to be in this form there’s no reason why Canada shouldn’t be confident Sunday, even if Russia dominated the last contest.
Drysdale steps up for ill Byram
Bowen Byram was unexpectedly ruled out of the game due to an illness, a development that only revealed itself during the first period. Jamie Drysdale, the lone 2020-draft eligible member of the defence took his place and stepped up admirably.
Finland called a timeout after Canada jumped out to a 2-0 lead, and Drysdale promptly suffocated his opponent with a shot that wouldn’t look out of place in the NHL.
Jamie Drysdale walks right in, doesn't even take his shoes off.pic.twitter.com/z6OMCojBoA— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) January 4, 2020
Drysdale was able to carry top-four pairing minutes easily and didn’t look remotely out of place. It could be argued that he was Canada’s best defenceman on a day where all six played well in shutting down a veteran-laden Finnish corps.
Canada - and Byram, we suppose - can rest easy knowing that Drysdale is more than capable of filling in and excelling for the 2019 fourth overall pick if necessary.
Hayton leaves with apparent injury
With the result already in the balance, Hayton suffered an unfortunate injury in the third period.
Battling for the puck against Finland’s captain Lassi Thomson, Hayton was pushed into the boards and left the game immediately, clutching his arm after briefly stopping at the bench for examination.
It’s a crushing blow for Canada as Hayton was the team’s leading scorer prior to Saturday’s semifinal and registered two assists before leaving the game. Compounding matters, the Lafrenière-Hayton-Foote line has been Canada’s break-glass-in-case-of-emergency-option, and if the Coyotes’ forward can’t go Sunday, it will need to find a suitable substitute.
Joe Veleno’s mix of skill and experience makes him a likely option but he’s been erratic throughout the tournament and Canada might opt to keep him in place in order to keep the roster balanced. This might be Connor McMichael’s chance to shine, and with four goals in the tournament thus far he could thrive against Russia.
Looking ahead to Russia
Russia proves daunting for good reason, with the memory of the 6-0 loss fresh in the minds of Team Canada and its legion of fans.
I suggested after the game that Canada ought to throw out the tape and for good reason. There are a few operative differences, even though it’s a short tournament.
Joel Hofer was excellent against Finland and he’ll certainly start against Russia. Hofer replaced Nico Daws against Russia last time, who was pulled after letting in four goals and never regained his spot in the lineup. Although he was a question mark coming into the tournament, Hofer has been steady for Canada since taking over as the starter and presents a different challenge for Russia.
The goaltending question mark presents itself for Russia, too. Yaroslav Askarov, billed by some publications as the next big goaltending star, sat during the 6-0 victory, while Amir Miftakhov gained the shutout. Askarov was pulled during Russia’s semifinal win against Sweden and it’s yet to be determined who will start vs. Canada.
The second operative difference is that Lafrenière is back with a vengeance. After his leaving the game against Russia, Canada further unravelled. Canada brims with confidence when Lafrenière is on the ice and he is the x-factor in what ought to be a more competitive game than the Dec. 28 showing.
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