It was on its way to establishing itself as one of the best world junior teams Hockey Canada has ever assembled. Tonight it tumbled quickly down the mountain it was scaling.
The United States brought Canada’s remarkable tournament bid to a screeching halt in Tuesday’s final at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton, winning its fifth U20 title with a 2-0 triumph over the host nation that was, before tonight, as close to perfect as it could be.
The win marks the fourth time the Americans have clinched world junior gold in a head-to-head matchup with Canada.
U.S. stars Matthew Turcotte and Trevor Zegras scored the first five-on-five goals versus Canada in the entire tournament to construct an early American lead and spoil the stats on standout Canadian netminder Devon Levi, who himself was submitting a tournament for the record books.
Levi had to be strong again to keep it close, but he was second-best compared to fellow Florida Panthers draft selection Spencer Knight, who made 33 saves for the victory.
So, what happened?
The short answer is that Canada did not handle its first bout of adversity in the tournament very well. Like, at all.
Used to scoring within the first few shifts of the game, instead the Canadians found themselves trailing early. It seemed to have a paralyzing effect on the Canadians, who had nothing to offer for several minutes on end and were, at best, on their heels for the remainder of the opening period. Still, after having the time to shake out some cobwebs, it was clear they weren’t prepared for the start of the second period when the Americans doubled their lead within seconds. It wasn’t until desperation had set in did the Canadians work themselves into the game, when it was already halfway through.
And that wasn’t nearly enough, obviously, because while the Canadians were reeling, the opposite effect was happening on the other side. While they certainly talked the talk coming in, the confidence and comfort was swelling for the Americans, who shifted their focus to diligence from a defensive standpoint, stifling the Canadian attack over and over again.
It was the perfect game to end what had been a perfect run. But the Canadians did not hold up their end of the bargain in this one. Perhaps too dominant to that point, they weren’t battle-tested to the same level as the Americans, who handled the stage, the pressure, and the moment, that much better Tuesday night.
Zegras > Cozens
In addition to deciding world junior hockey supremacy, the gold medal final would also decide the most valuable player of the tournament. And Trevor Zegras left little doubt who that player was with his performance for the United States.
The Anaheim Ducks No. 1 selection was neck-and-neck with Canadian co-captain Dylan Cozens for the tournament scoring title entering the game. Though the both had 16 points, Zegras officially trailed by virtue of Cozens having more goals to that point.
As it turns out, neither the Canadians or a tie-breaking procedure from the IIHF would deny the dominant scoring winger of deserved accolades. Zegras factored on both goals, scoring the second, and celebrated each of those markers with Cozens on the ice to help pull the puck out of his own net.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 6, 2021
Zegras was the most dominant force at the event and now one of the most decorated juniors in USA Hockey history, hitting 26 points for his career — second all time.
Knight > Levi
Elsewhere, Spencer Knight reestablished rank in the Florida Panthers prospect pecking order.
Lifted in a loss against Russia and coming off a disappointing performance in last winter’s tournament, Knight saved his best world juniors performance for his last, clearly out-performing his previously unheralded, suddenly hyped goaltending counterpart and colleague in the Florida system, Canada’s Devon Levi.
It was Levi who received top goaltender honours at the event, but Knight should be considered a close second. With his 27 saves, he became the first U.S. goalie in history to shut out Canada in the final at the world juniors.
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