TORONTO – It was surely the easiest start and shutout of Connor Ingram’s life.
The Team Canada netminder faced six shots, stopping them all in a 5-0 win over Slovakia on Tuesday night. Indeed, the Canadians made easy work of their second opponent at the world junior hockey championship, outshooting the Slovaks 44-6.
Ingram faced two shots in the first period, one shot in the second and three in the third. The six shots against matched a record-low for Canada at the world juniors, dating back to 1983 when the country toppled Norway 13-0.
“A lot of guys worked a lot harder than I did to make my job pretty simple tonight,” an earnest Ingram said afterward. “If you see that every night your job should be pretty easy.
Jeremy Lauzon, Taylor Raddysh, Anthony Cirelli, Thomas Chabot and Michael McLeod all scored for Canada, which took over first place in Group B (six points).
Canada got a challenging Russian squad in their tournament opener on Monday night – a 5-3 win – with the Slovaks posing a lesser threat that was apparent early and throughout the evening.
The Canadians controlled the puck almost without exception over the first 20 minutes, outshooting Slovakia 14-2 and coming up with a handful of quality chances, including one in the opening minutes by Matt Barzal. Barzal, a New York Islanders first-round pick, was coming off a three-point outing against the Russians.
Despite the obvious skill discrepancy between the two teams, the Slovaks worked hard to keep the Canadians to the outside and when that failed six-foot-four goaltender Adam Huska bailed them out, turning everything aside in the first.
Huska, the New York Rangers’ final pick in the 2015 NHL draft (184th overall), is currently attending the University of Connecticut following a stint with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL.
He finished with 39 saves.
“I felt good on the ice, but Canada is really good,” said Huska, who described himself as tired after the busy outing. “It’s really hard to stop every puck.”
Ingram, meanwhile, was getting the start on the back-to-back for Canada following Carter Hart’s wobbly, but ultimately successful showing against Russia (three goals on 17 shots). A Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick from the tiny southern Saskatchewan town of Imperial – population of 349 people – Ingram currently leads the Western Hockey League with a .935 save percentage.
Little was required of him. Two Canadian forwards had more shots themselves than the Slovaks as a team in the first – Julien Gauthier managed five while Barzal fired three. Gauthier, for that matter, finished with seven shots on the night, outpacing Slovakia all by himself.
Ingram said all goaltenders learn “their little quirks” to handle quiet nights such as this.
“I’m no different from every other weird guy that plays this position,” he said.
“We’ve all got ’em. Just little things that keep you in the game, keep you thinking about the game, keep you focused.”
He couldn’t remember ever enduring a night quite like this. His quietest showing with the Kamloops Blazers was a 14-shot outing (he stopped 12) on Feb. 2015.
The Canadians finally beat Huska on their 17th shot, Lauzon fed off the rush by Tyson Jost, who opened the scoring one night earlier against Russia. Lauzon, a 19-year-old defensive prospect of the Boston Bruins who plays for Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL, added an assist later in the period when his point shot was deflected by Cirelli.
The Canadians ultimately got four past Huska in the second, including a power-play goal by Raddysh, the Ontario Hockey League’s current scoring leader (61 points), and a Chabot point blast, also with the man advantage.
Chabot, an Ottawa Senators first rounder, finished with a goal and an assist while leading the Canadians in ice-time (18:26).
Canada had more goals (4) after 40 minutes than Slovakia had shots (3). The Slovaks managed just one shot in the second compared to 17 for the Canadians.
McLeod added the final Canadian goal early in the third, with Ingram stopping the three shots he faced.
Ingram has registered shutouts in each of his last three starts, two for Canada (the other a 21-save blanking of the Czech Republic in pre-tournament play) and one with Kamloops. He stopped all 29 shots for the Blazers in a 4-0 win over the Brandon Wheat Kings on Dec. 4, his final appearance before joining Team Canada.
This effort, though, was more about the efforts of his teammates, who gave up only 17 shots to the Russians one day earlier.
“I think our speed is dominating right now,” Ingram said. “You see teams pick up pucks and their time and space closes off pretty quickly.”
Though head coach Dominique Ducharme wouldn’t confirm it afterward, it’s likely that Hart returns to the crease when the Canadians continue the preliminary round against Latvia on Thursday night. A tough test against the Americans follows on New Year’s Eve.