A 7 a.m. puck-drop didn’t stop Lethbridge Hurricanes players from getting together at the rink to watch three of their teammates in World Junior Championship action on Thursday morning.
Dylan Cozens and Calen Addison of Team Canada faced off against their Western Hockey League (WHL) teammate Oliver Okuliar in quarter-final action from the Czech Republic, as the Canadians downed Team Slovakia 6-1.
For teammates back in Lethbridge — who have gone 5-1-0 in WHL action since the three left for the tournament — the chance to watch their buddies on the world stage hasn’t been taken for granted.
The coaching staff in Lethbridge — although missing having the three stars in the lineup — has also enjoyed watching familiar faces compete internationally.
“Not very often you have three guys from one team playing a game at World Junior level, so real exciting, very proud of all of them,” said head coach Brent Kisio.
Cozens, Addison, and Okuliar put on a show for those watching back in Lethbridge during Thursday’s quarter-final, with each finding the scoresheet.
The ejection of Canadian forward Nolan Foote (Kelowna Rockets) just 53 seconds into the contest — receiving a five-minute major and a game misconduct for an apparent hit to the head — opened up a spot on Canada’s top line for Cozens early on.
Playing alongside Arizona Coyotes forward Barrett Hayton (5th overall, 2018) and Alexis Lafreniere — the projected first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft — Cozens notched an assist at 6:47, and added a second helper on Jacob Bernard-Docker’s second period goal.
The pair of points moved the Yukon native into fourth in tournament scoring, with 8 points (1G, 7A) through five games.
Addison also contributed two assists on Thursday, picking up apples on goals by Lafreniere and Hayton.
Cozens and Addison have both found spots on Canada’s top power-play unit throughout the tournament — something those in Lethbridge haven’t been surprised to see.
“It’s pretty fun watching them do what they do, but on the national scale,” said Prefontaine.
“They do it out here all the time and we like watching their little knicks and tricks and stuff, so it’s cool to see them do it on a big level like that.”
For the ‘Canes at Thursday morning’s watch party, it was easy to cheer for the Canadians, but with Okuliar on the other side, the boys said they had a soft spot for the Slovakians.
“You get behind Canada anyways for a World Juniors, have been since you were a kid,” said Hurricanes defenceman Koletrane Wilson.
With Slovakia knocked out of the tournament in Thursday’s loss, Okuliar will head home having added four points (2G, 2A) in five games for his country, including the team’s lone goal in the 6-1 defeat.
The goal turned heads, but it wasn’t surprising to his Lethbridge teammates.
“We’ve seen a lot of that here,” laughed Wilson.
“You know, obviously we thought it was a little big funny taking a slop shot on pretty much a breakaway, but it worked out for him. It was a bomb of a shot, and hopefully he has a couple left when he gets back for us.”
“Yeah we all cheered pretty loud even though it was Slovakia,” said Prefontaine. “It was pretty funny to watch him walk down and just rail one off the pipe.”
Cozens and Addison will now continue their quest for gold with Team Canada by facing the defending champions, Finland, in Saturday’s semi-final.