Canada scored three times in the first 13 minutes enroute to a 4-2 win over over Finland in its opener Tuesday at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“Everyone was excited; but the first two periods, I don’t think we played that well – that could have been nerves or whatever you want to call it. As the game went on, we definitely got better as a team and collectively it was a pretty decent effort against a very good hockey club. I know a few guys (on Finland), they’re great players, they’re a deep team who can score but obviously the big thing for us was penalties which kind of hurt us,” said assistant captain, and Penticton Vees alumni, Dante Fabbro (Coquitlam, B.C./Boston, HE).
The Canadian team, which is captained by forward Dillon Dubé (Cochrane, Alta./Kelowna Rockets, WHL) and features defenceman Cal Foote (Kelowna,B.C./Kelowna Rockets, WHL), rode stand-out penalty killing and the strong play of goaltender Carter Hart (Sherwood Park, Alta./Everett, WHL), who finished with 29 saves.
Boris Katchouk (Waterloo, Ont./Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) and Taylor Raddysh (Caledon, Ont./Erie, OHL) paced the offence with a goal and an assist each.
“I think it was huge to get a couple of goals early. Whenever you score that first goal it’s always big for us and big for momentum. To grab it early like we did is huge and we built off that the rest of the game,” said Hart.
Canada quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead; Katchouk scored first at 5:34, going to the net and tucking a shot around Finnish netminder Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, and Sam Steel (Sherwood Park, Alta./Regina, WHL) buried a Raddysh rebound on the power play just 27 seconds later.
Aleksi Heponiemi got one back for Finland at 12:19, but Drake Batherson (New Minas, N.S./Cape Breton, QMJHL) one-timed a feed from Jonah Gadjovich (Whitby, Ont./Owen Sound, OHL) past Luukkonen only 33 seconds after that to restore the two-goal advantage after 20 minutes.
Finland got within a goal again at 7:31 of the second period when a point shot from Henri Jokiharju deflected off the leg of Gadjovich and bounced past Hart, but that would be it for offence from the Finns, who managed just the single man-advantage goal on six chances.
“We had too many turnovers. We can be checking better and the penalties we took was because we didn’t use our legs and our speed, so we were reaching with our stick. Those are things we know and guys did a good job in the two exhibition games, but today now it’s all about getting into the tournament and getting in rhythm. With the first game behind us, we can now keep building throughout the tournament,” said Team Canada head coach Dominique Ducharme.
Foote saved what looked like was going to be a sure thing goal for Finland in the third period. With the puck bouncing behind Hart and headed across the goal line, Foote dove behind the goalie and managed to swat it out of the net within millimetres of the puck making it over the red line.
Hockey is a game of inches. #WorldJuniors pic.twitter.com/D1iTisFz1r
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 26, 2017
Raddysh, who scored five goals in seven games at the 2017 World Juniors, got his first of the 2018 tournament at 12:47 of the middle frame, corralling a bouncing puck and beating Luukkonen with a knuckleball from the high slot.
Canada carried the play in the scoreless third period, outshooting Finland 15-8 for a 32-31 edge overall.
The Canadians are right back to action Wednesday night, taking on Slovakia (7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT).