Canada cruised past Slovakia 6-1 during Thursday’s quarterfinal, overpowering its opponent thanks to a gulf in talent.
Alexis Lafrenière returned to the lineup after missing two games with what initially appeared to be a serious knee injury, and the 18-year-old once again marvelled for Canada, proving why he’s the clear-cut favourite to go first overall in the NHL this summer.
Here are four takeaways from Canada’s victory.
Foote’s controversial ejection was warranted
Nolan Foote was ejected 53 seconds into the game after delivering this hit on Slovakia’s Kristian Kovacik. If you watched the game, we’re certain you’ve formed an opinion by now.
On first glance, it appears that Foote delivered a clean hit, and that the brute force of his speed and size overpowered Kovacik. It was an ill-advised hit, however, and considering that the IIHF has made a concerted effort to focus on player safety as one of its primary concerns, Foote was certain to be ejected the minute Kovacik went crashing down.
This, of course creates a difficult precedent and Foote shouldn’t face further disciplinary action. It’s an unfortunate event however, and under the IIHF’s jurisdiction, it’s a reminder to be extremely careful when finishing your checks.
Slovakia failed to capitalize on Foote’s early ejection, as it mustered five shots on the power play, then Barrett Hayton put Canada on the board less than a minute after the five-minute major expired.
Cozens steps up in Foote’s absence
Dylan Cozens was promoted to the Alexis Lafrenière-Barrett Hayton line after Foote’s ejection and immediately took advantage of the opportunity. After Canada killed off the five-minute major, Cozens flew in and trapped Slovakia’s Marko Stacha as he tried to exit the zone. Cozens forced the turnover, flipped the puck to Lafrenière, who expertly found Hayton for the game’s opening goal.
Here’s another angle of Cozens stripping Stacha.
#WorldJuniors: Dylan Cozens (BUF) with the poke check, Alexis Lafreniere with the centering feed, and Barrett Hayton (ARI) with the shot that gives Canada a 1-0 lead over Slovakia. pic.twitter.com/Tn6xwYqOIV— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) January 2, 2020
Cozens added a secondary assist on Jacob Bernard-Docker’s goal in the second period and was an all-around menace offensively. Selected seventh overall in the 2019 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres, Cozens’ ability was on full display and in the event that Foote gets suspended, he proved that he’s more than ready to contribute alongside Canada’s best two forwards.
Lafrenière was the best player on the ice after return from injury
Hayton received game MVP honours for his two goals but Lafrenière stole the show once again Thursday, returning to action after a two-game absence, looking completely healthy.
Lafrenière made an immediate impact as the game started, providing a physical presence for Canada, and later showed off his wizardry on Hayton’s opening goal. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that you cannot afford Lafrenière an inch of space as he’ll outright dissect the defence with a perfectly placed pass or a seeing-eye shot.
The 18-year-old wunderkind is the defining player of the tournament, and he makes everyone on Canada better due to his dynamic passing and shooting accuracy. Lafrenière also hasn’t backed down physically at any stage of the tournament, and is as complete a player as you’ll find outside of the NHL.
It’s hard to believe that Lafrenière’s injury against Russia initially seemed catastrophic as he put on another clinic against Slovakia. Two more performances like this from Lafrenière and Canada will leave Czech Republic with gold in hand.
A gulf in talent
Full credit to Slovakia, but they were outmatched from the outset of the game and Canada’s armada of future - and current, if you count Hayton - NHL talent proved to be overwhelming.
As soon as Slovakia couldn’t score on the five-minute major assessed to Foote, Canada scored immediately and put this game out of reach.
This quote from Slovakia’s Oliver Okuliar to TSN’s Mark Masters really sums it up neatly.
🇨🇦 Kevin Bahl on QF v 🇸🇰: "They don't want to go, we don't want to go, it's going to be a war. They're not going to just back down so it's going to be an absolute battle out there."— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) January 2, 2020
Oliver Okuliar: "We have to play hard & with heart, because we don't have any NHL (prospects)"
It might’ve been Canada’s best game of the tournament thus far, but after getting destroyed by Russia 6-0 earlier in the tournament, there should be a constant reminder that this team can’t coast on ability alone.
Canada now awaits its semifinal opponent, where it could potentially draw the United States, Finland or the Czech Republic due to the tournament’s re-seeding. In any case, this was Canada’s last “easy” game so to speak, as the U.S. will be looking for revenge, Finland is looking to defend its crown while the Czech Republic will be buoyed by the home crowd.
Remember, after the quarter-finals, the four remaining teams are re-seeded and matched up 1v4 and 2v3. The current seedings are: 1 Sweden, 2 Canada, 3 Switzerland, 4 USA, 5 Finland, 6 Russia, 7 Czech Republic, 8 Slovakia. #WorldJuniors— 2020 IIHF #WorldJuniors (@iihf_wjc) January 2, 2020
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