By Cole Parkinson
I think it’d be hard to find anyone who thought this holiday break was close to normal with COVID-19 restrictions preventing large gatherings for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
But at least Boxing Day and the following days have provided some normalcy for Canadian hockey fans with the 2021 World Junior Championships.
While the lack of 18,000 lunatic Canadian fans has been quite noticeable through the TV screen, the hockey has been pretty good considering a large majority of the players had barely played games before the start of the tournament.
And the fact there were no pre-tournament games, I don’t think there can be much negativity coming from fans, especially since the NHL is still days away from gearing up.
Sure, there have been some very uneven games but that happens every year.
Even though Germany got absolutely shellacked in their second game of the tournament against Canada, they still made it to the quarterfinals where they were barely ousted by the Russians.
Looking back at this tournament, it’s more than likely this will be the first real coming out party for Ottawa Senators 2020 first round draft pick and German forward Tim Stützle, who was absolutely dominant in the tournament, collecting five goals and five assists in five games.
He looked like an NHL player playing against kids and I think Sens fans have to be excited to see what he brings to the NHL squad this year.
While Ottawa is far from the best team in the NHL’s North Division, they will certainly be an exciting team and Stützle will be a big piece of that.
Other players making waves at the tournament included Canadian Dylan Cozens (2019 Buffalo Sabres draft pick), American Trevor Zegras (2019 Anaheim Ducks draft pick), Fin Anton Lundell (2020 Florida Panthers draft pick) and Russian Rodion Amirov (2020 Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick).
And who could forget the show Canada goaltender Devon Levi has put on?
After the semi-finals, he held a .975 save percentage and three shutouts, which tied Justin Pogge’s record from 2006.
While those are just a few names, there have been several other players who had great tournaments.
With Canada, Russia, the U.S. and Finland all making the semi-finals, I think there wasn’t much surprise other than the fact Sweden once again failed to win a gold medal.
They also saw their long standing 54 round robin winning streak snapped, which was also the first of three straight losses and included them losing against their arch rival Finland in the quarters.
For being such a dominant team in the round robin for several years, Sweden has failed to come out on top in all but two tournaments (1981, 2012).
That being said, the final four teams were all more than deserving and seeing Russia/Canada and Finland/USA semi-final games was about as good as it gets for the World Juniors.
The first semi-final game saw Canada once again dominate defensively on the backs of thier great d-core and Levi.
Canada proved to be a tough nut to crack as they had yet to be behind in a game after the semis.
The Finland/US game was just as entertaining as the Fins were down 3-1 heading into the third before roaring back to tie with just over three minutes left.
The US was undeterred as they potted a goal of their own to retake the lead with 1:16 left to go in the third, which sealed their entry into the gold medal game to face their nemisis — Canada.
The gold medal game no doubt did not leave many Canadians happy as the US played about as good as you can defensively, winning 2-0. The US team, and their goalie, Spencer Knight, deserve a ton of credit for playing the perfect game in the final of the tournament. Unfortunately, Canada could not find any offensive spark through the entirety of the game.
Throughout the tournament, I don’t think many would argue Canada was the best team, but in a one game final, anything can happen.
Canada is now 0-4 against the US in the last four meetups in the gold medal game at the WJC.