Drake Batherson had a hat trick as Canada downed the Czech Republic 7-2 in the semifinal of the world junior hockey championship on Thursday night. The Canadians will face Sweden on Friday night in the gold-medal game.
Here are three things to know:
Same team, different story
Seven players and head coach Dominique Ducharme are returning from last year’s team that lost in the shootout to the United States in the gold-medal game. Although it was a heartbreaking loss, they insist that this is a new team and a new year.
“It’s going to be a different game. It’s different tournament. It’s a different group,” said Ducharme, who saw his team rally from an early deficit to the Czechs.
“I think our guys are learning a lot, we’ve been through a lot in the first round. Just tonight, the way we played the game. Trailing 1-0, early in the game, guys didn’t panic and then we established our game. All those little things we need to take and play our best game tomorrow.”
At selection camp in mid-December, Ducharme told reporters that he wanted his team to be fast and put pressure on other teams to create turnovers.
That model has worked perfectly, with Canada’s defence and forwards working together to smother other teams for all 200 feet of the ice. It has also led to a balanced attack that keeps defences — and fans — guessing.
The player who has benefited the most from this system is Ottawa Senators prospect Drake Batherson, who enters play Friday in a three-way tie for the goal-scoring lead at the tournament.
“I think today we just wanted to come out and obviously just do anything we can to get a win,” said Batherson after beating the Czechs. “I was lucky enough to score a few goals and me and my linemates are just continuing our chemistry as the tournament goes on and yeah it’s been going well.”
Calm before the storm
Another hallmark of Canada’s junior team has been an unshakable confidence heading into each game. Even as the pressure mounts and the opponents have been more difficult, the Canadians have remained calm, cool and collected.
“We’re all calm guys. There are no guys that are going to flip out,” said defenceman Cale Makar.
“We know if we want to get the job done, we have to be on the same page. That comes from the leadership, having guys that wear the ‘C’ and a show us how to be calm in this tournament. There are no nerve-wracking situations.”