The Canadian National Junior team is set to begin the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship on Saturday (Boxing Day) afternoon in a Group A matchup with the Germans.
Team Germany, which lost its tournament opener on Friday 5-3 to Finland, was only able to ice a roster consisting of nine forwards and five defencemen, as nine of its team members have been ruled out due to having COVID-19 or being a close contact with someone who has the virus.
“I’m very proud of the effort from from our team,” said head coach Tobias Abstreiter. “They really showed great character and unbelievable composure. At the beginning, you saw a little bit of what’s natural, the rust in their bodies, but they came on really good in the game… We know that Team Canada will fly in their first game and they’re going to come out really hard tomorrow. It’s important for us now that we recover and make tomorrow a step in the right direction.”
Despite winning by only two goals, Finland outshot the Germans 50-22. Highly-talented Tim Stuetzle had a goal and an assist for Germany, but the Finns took all three standings ‘points’, jumping into first place in Group A. The other Group A contest on Christmas Day featured a 1-0 victory by Slovakia over Switzerland.
“For sure, it’s a tough situation, but in the end we can’t change it,” Stuetzle said post-game. “We need to see the positive things, and I think we played a great game today. I’m really proud of the guys.”
Germany, which finished ninth in last year’s tournament will now take on a highly-offensive Canadian squad. However, Canada will be without its captain Kirby Dach, who suffered a broken wrist in its single pre-tournament game against Russia on Wednesday. Per IIHF rules, alternates Bowen Byram and Dylan Cozens will take turns wearing the ‘C’, while Connor McMichael will serve as a permanent alternate captain moving forward.
After travelling back to Chicago to be evaluated by Blackhawks’ team doctors and medical staff, Dach tweeted the following: “Merry Christmas everybody, hope you have an amazing holiday season. Just wanted to say Thank you for all the support and well-wishes.”
With captain Dach out of the lineup, the remaining forward corps will certainly undergo some significant changes moving forward. After starting on the team’s third line, Winnipeg Jets draft pick Cole Perfetti and Winnipeg ICE captain Peyton Krebs have apparently been elevated to the team’s top line alongside Connor McMichael for the tournament opener.
“He does such a good job managing pressure,” said Team Canada assistant coach Mike Dyck on Cole Perfetti’s powerplay opportunities. “There’s some freedom of discipline there, where once they have possession of the puck they run on instincts, and he’s one of the guys who is the best at that.”
Perfetti picked up the primary assist on Canada’s only goal of the tune-up game against Russia, as he carried the puck into the offensive zone and dropped it perfectly for defenceman Jamie Drysdale, while fired it top-shelf past Russia’s backup netminder.
Puck drop in Saturday’s contest is set for 5:00 PM central, with the teams facing off out of the Edmonton hub-city ‘bubble. The game can be viewed live on TSN in Canada and the NHL Network in the United States.