The Canadians are heading to the Gold Medal Game of the 2021 IIHF World Championship… somehow.
Labelled as the ‘F’ team – not the ‘A’ team nor the ‘B’ team out of Canada, but quite possibly the worst assortment of players assembled for a multi-week event, ‘Team Canada’ prevailed all the way to the final of the annual event, despite its worst start to the tournament in team history.
Dropping three-straight games, the Canadians were on the brink of missing the quarterfinal round for the first time in tournament history. Following three-straight victories to even out its record, Team Canada then lost 3-2 in a shootout to Finland, before moving on to face the Russian Olympic Committee in the quarterfinal, where it won a back-and-forth game in overtime off a fantastic move by Troy Stecher.
This set up a ‘dream matchup’ with the United States in the semifinal, to which the Canadians came out to play, having picking up points in five-straight heading into the North American showdown. Having lost 5-1 to USA at the start of the tournament, Canada bounced back and earned a 4-2 victory, early Saturday morning, teeing up a Gold Medal Game with Finland at Noon on Sunday in a rematch from the 2019 event.
Once again, Andrew Mangiapane and Connor Brown led the way for Canada, which was outshot by the United States 38-33 in the game. Brown had two assists, while Mangiapane scored Canada’s second and third goals of the game, following Brandon Pirri’s early strike. Justin Danforth sealed it with 24 seconds left to play on and empty-netter.
“It’s been a crazy tournament,” Mangiapane said post-game. “We started 0-and-3 as a team. Now we’re playing our best hockey; we’re riding that momentum. Got one more game to go. Great how we’re playing. Great how we’re coming back and just playing the right way. It’s awesome to see from the group, but we gotta keep going.”
Brown now leads all tournament scorers with two goals and 13 points in his nine games played, while Mangiapane – the late-comer – has seven goals and 11 points in just six contests.
“It’s crazy how we’ve competed,” Mangiapane added. “We’ve been the underdogs every single game, and we just keep proving people wrong. It’s great to see from the guys, all the character, the battle levels. But we’re not done. We’ve got one more game to take care of business here.”
It was the first time in the tournament that USA failed to scored the opening goal of a game, while also serving as the first time an opponent had put more than two pucks into the team’s net. Cal Petersen played well, but Darcy Kuemper was sensational, turning aside 36 of 38 shots he faced. Wheat Kings captain Braden Schneider finished the game a +1. Jets’ draft pick Cole Perfetti did not play.