Canada off to gold medal game after another flawless outing

Justin Cuthbert
·5-min read
EDMONTON, AB - JANUARY 04: Dawson Mercer #20, Braden Schneider #2 and Thomas Harley #5 of Canada celebrate a goal against Russia during the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship semifinals at Rogers Place on January 4, 2021 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Canada was pretty much perfect yet again as it crushed Russia in the semifinals of the world juniors to advance to the gold medal game. (Getty)

Canada will contend for gold at the 2021 world juniors.

Behind 27 saves from standout netminder Devon Levi, the Canadians shut out the rival Russians and advanced to the tournament final with a 5-0 victory in Edmonton.

Dylan Cozens once again led the way offensively, taking the tournament lead in goals and points with a three-point outing. In addition to Cozens, Alex Newhook, Connor McMichael, Cole Perfetti, and Braden Schneider also had goals for Canada.

It will be either the United States or Finland next for the Canadians, who haven’t looked vulnerable for even a moment across six games to begin the tournament after their dominant semifinal win over Russia.

Defence wins championships

Defensively, the Canadians have been near-flawless in this tournament. Allowing multiple goals once (in a blowout victory over the Germans, no less), and still without a blemish at even strength, and now shutting out an opponent for the third time in the tournament, this will go down as one of the best defensive teams in history, barring a collapse the gold medal final.

The superb top pairing of Bowen Byram and Jamie Drysdale are the anchors for head coach Andre Tourigny. Together, they are in complete control of the game. But the detail and dominance has been absolute for the Canadians, who are putting on perhaps the best imitation of Canada’s performance at the Olympics in Sochi, where it just seemed implausible that an opponent would break through.

Puck support is the specialty of this group. Players are always in position. And that relentless support and all the hard work it does defensively is what sets up the attack for Canada — just as you might read directly from the hockey handbook.

It is just the little things, constantly, for the Canadians, who had their head coach nearly blushing after the game. And while there are so many examples to choose from, fourth-line forward Dawson Mercer strung some of that tremendous work together in the second period, providing a perfect snapshot of what the group has done so impeccably and relentlessly well for the entire tournament.

This clip is split into two, with the plays coming only a few seconds apart. First Mercer tracks back to eliminate one of the few glimmers of hope for the Russians, allowing a teammate to drag the puck into the attacking end. He then finds himself in a one-on-two battle along the sideboards, takes the puck — because he wants it more — and feeds to Ryan Suzuki, who finds Schneider for the goal.

Like it did on this shift, it is all adding up for Canada. One more performance even in the realm of this one will surely result in Canada’s second consecutive world junior gold.

Making a name for himself

While the Canadians can submit an all-time performance as a group, their netminder can do it as an individual with one more repeat performance as well. A virtual unknown before the start of the tournament, Devon Levi has ascended the list of top performers for Canada in the history of the event.

Levi matched the record with his third shutout in what was his best game up to this point. After making another 27 saves, Levi has now stopped 115 of the 118 shots he’s faced, which works out to a .975 save percentage through six games.

He, much like the team, is performing in this faultless way. Levi is, without fail, square to shooters, eliminating rebounds and second chances basically every time the puck hits his padding. It’s reached the point where a player without any pedigree or known momentum leading up to the event has convinced a country that nothing is getting past him.

And what makes it all even more stunning is that he demonstrated this brilliant technique and composure while one of the most prized goaltending prospects of the last couple decades imploded at the other end.

Forget his stick: Russia’s Yaroslav Askarov couldn’t hold a candle to Levi on Monday night.

The right notes

For all the incredible things that Canada did from a goal-preventing standpoint, it seems there were a few important developments offensively, too.

Two immensely important offensive players — Alex Newhook and Cole Perfetti — will be riding a little bit of momentum heading into the gold medal game after scoring in the semifinal.

Newhook was shot out of a cannon on his first shift after missing the last game with what’s believed to be a shoulder injury. He was so caught up in that terrorizing initial interval that he didn’t even notice that he beat Askarov clean from point-blank range.

It wasn’t until game ops called down to blow the play dead did Canada — and Newhook — get awarded with this icebreaker.

Then before the period was up, Perfetti broke out of a little slump by doing what he does best on a Canadian power play.

Newhook and Perfetti haven’t had dream tournaments to this point, but both now have the opportunity to build on something, and be difference-makers in the final.

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