The 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship began on Wednesday afternoon for the 25 players making up the Canadian National Junior hockey team. Facing off against Russia in a pre-tournament tune-up contest, the Canadians once again followed the most recent storylines of winning the game, but losing a key player in the effort.
Much like that of past tournaments featuring Alexis Lafreniere and Barrett Hayton injuries against Team Russia, Canada lost captain Kirby Dach to a suspected right hand injury midway through the third period of a tight 1-0 victory over head coach Igor Larionov and the Russians.
This is… uh… very bad! Kirby Dach (@NHLBlackhawks) tries to play the body in the neutral zone, and immediately heads to the bench.
Appears to have injured his hand/wrist/arm area on this play. pic.twitter.com/NRooXud5eL
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) December 24, 2020
“We don’t yet have an update,” said Canadian head coach Andre Tourigny in his post-game media availability. “We will need an x-ray later on. But that’s why you have 25 players. If they could, the Germans would have brought in a lot of players. If they can’t, we can’t. But Kirby really tries to bring everyone into the fight, play the right way, He doesn’t force things; he’s the ultimate team player out there.”
Dach – a member of the Chicago Blackhawks team that had already suited up in the 2020 postseason in the Edmonton hub-city ‘bubble’ – was set to serve as the Canadian captain, while hoping to help lead his fellow countrymen to world junior gold. With his status currently up in the air, coach Tourigny and Co. will need to move on to potential backup plans, should Dach’s injury be serious in nature.
Canada, which beat the Russians on both the scoreboard and the shot tally (29-23) dressed 21 skaters on Wednesday (as did Russia as a part of a mutual agreement pre-game) with Philip Tomasino serving as the team’s only scratch. During the single-game pre-tournament round, teams are actually eligible to dress 22 skaters and two goaltenders. But during both the preliminary and medal rounds that number shifts to 20 skaters and two goaltenders. All teams carry 22 skaters and three goaltenders for the duration of the tournament, with no additional players allowed entrance into the bubble should cases of COVID-19 or injuries occur.
Wednesday’s game featured the likes of Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov – the first round selection of the Nashville Predators in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft – who stood on his head for 40 minutes, shutting the door on all Canadian shots, before Artur Akhtyamov (fourth round selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2020) came in for the third period.
It was in that third period that the game’s first – and only – goal occurred. Following a perfect drop pass by Winnipeg Jets draft pick Cole Perfetti, Canadian blueliner Jamie Drysdale fired a perfectly-placed point shot top-corner, far-side past the Russian netminder with 16:08 left to play in the final stanza. Despite an array of chances on both ends of the ice, neither team managed to bulge the twine for the remainder of the game.
Perfetti, Winnipeg’s first round selection (10th overall in 2020) secured the primary assist on the game-winner, while skating alongside Winnipeg ICE captain Peyton Krebs on the team’s ‘most Manitoban’ line. Perfetti and Krebs make up two of the seven players on this year’s Canadian squad that were cut prior to the start of the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship.
The first period saw Canada’s Jakob Pelletier hit the post in a goalmouth scramble just eight minutes in, but 6-foot-4 Askarov saved the day for the Russians in the early going. The most impressive chance of the middle frame saw a number of breakaway chances by both teams, included a stretch pass from Devils’ 2020 first rounder Shakir Mukhamadullin that missed wide and a Dylan Cozens forehand chance from the slot that missed high.
Neither team managed to muster up much in the form of power play opportunities with the man advantage, as the lone goal came on a five-on-five situational attack. Canadian backstop Devon Levi made his biggest save, turning aside a Yegor Chinakhov breakaway chance with just five minutes left to play, securing his bid for a pre-tournament shutout over the team that tuned up the Canadian squad 6-0 in last year’s preliminary round.
The Russians pulled Akhtyamov following a timeout with 45 seconds left to play, but Canada’s Dylan Cozens and Connor McMichael won back-to-back timely defensive zone face-offs to help the Canadians stave off a game-tying marker and earn the 1-0 victory. For those who may have forgotten, Canada came from behind in the Gold Medal Game against Russia in the 2020 World Juniors, preventing the Russians from winning their first tournament since 2011.
With Canada’s win highly overshadowed by the loss of captain Kirby Dach, the back-to-back gameless days of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day may prove extraordinarily helpful to the 19-year-old’s potential recovery. The next time Canadian fans will have the opportunity to see their team play in front of the all-new bright red 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe will be Boxing Day in a Group A matchup with Tim Stuetzle and the Germans in the first game of the preliminary round. Puck drop is set for 4:30 PM central and the game can be viewed lived on TSN.