World Juniors takeaways: Connor Bedard, Canada way too good for Austria

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Canada took a commanding early lead over Austria and never looked back. (Jason Franson/CP)
Canada took a commanding early lead over Austria and never looked back. (Jason Franson/CP)

This one was never in doubt. Canada rolled to an 11-2 victory over Austria at the World Juniors on Tuesday, led by first-period goals from Kent Johnson, Lukas Cormier, and Logan Stankoven, while Connor Bedard added two markers in the opening frame.

Bedard completed his hat trick in the second period, then added his fourth goal of the contest early in the third stanza.

Here are four takeaways from Canada’s rout of Austria.

There’s no predictive value when the teams are this mismatched

You have to feel for Austria. This isn’t meant to be patronizing, the World Juniors are an international tournament intended as a best-on-best showcase. But from the outset, you could easily predict Canada would run away with this game, and the hosts showed they were several tiers above their competition. It was all over minutes into the contest.

Canada jumped out to a 5-0 first-period lead, with Johnson getting his team on the board and the onslaught began from there. Cormier quickly added another, and while it’s perilous to take your competition lightly, this was nothing more than a glorified scrimmage.

Bedard made it look fun at least, trying out a number of audacious plays that worked to his advantage. His second goal on a give-and-go with Will Cuylle, was the highlight of the night and sent Austria’s goaltender Leon Sommer sprawling.

TSN’s Gord Miller started speaking about the pride of playing for your country with just over a minute left in the first period. This is no shade toward Miller, he’s consistently among the better broadcasters in the country, and the unquestioned voice of the World Juniors. But you could sense he was bored in the booth, and who could blame him?

What does this portend for Canada going forward? Honestly, one hopes this type of game doesn’t lull Canada into a false sense of security. Wednesday’s game against Germany should provide a stiffer test, while the New Year’s Eve showdown against Finland ought to be the first time that Canada will need to up its game. As for tonight, well, you can only feel bad for the Austrian teenagers and admire Canada’s high-end skill.

Connor Bedard scored four goals. Could he win tournament MVP?

Few would’ve said they had a pretty good December 2021, but this month belongs to Bedard.

As mentioned in the takeaways from Sunday’s game vs. Czechia, he earned every minute of increased ice time he received. Again, while it’s difficult to attach predictive value to Tuesday’s game against Austria, the 16-year-old was Canada’s best player in the rout. It didn’t seem to matter that he’s on Canada’s nominal fourth line with Cuylle and Elliot Desnoyers. When Bedard’s on the ice, his line becomes a scoring line.

The give-and-go with Cuylle is the highlight-reel play, but Bedard almost had a first-period hat trick when he walked in on Sommer and forced the embattled goaltender into his best save of the game.

Bedard scored his third goal of the contest during the second period, as Austria made the cardinal sin of letting him operate with space. Even against sturdier competition in the Western Hockey League, Bedard’s ability to separate from defenders in traffic is one of his qualities that has elevated him beyond other prospects. Austria allowed Bedard to do whatever he wanted with the puck, and it’s never a good idea to allow him to work through his package of head fakes and dangles without much resistance.

Maybe it’s a good idea to box out Bedard at all costs. He showed off his tremendous hand-eye coordination, tipping home a feed from Cuylle for his fourth goal of the night.

Could Bedard win the tournament MVP, an unprecedented feat for someone his age? At this juncture, Bedard, 2023 draft rival Matvei Michkov, Owen Power, and Finland’s trio of Brad Lambert, Samuel Helenius and Ville Koivunen are the top candidates. This will be subject to change, especially as the group stage evolves, and if the United States don’t forfeit another contest, but thus far, the Canadian wunderkind may be on the verge of a truly historic tournament.

Will Brett Brochu surrender the starting job after making one mistake?

At one point during the second period, Canada was outshooting Austria 31-6 while up 5-0. Staying focused during a blowout is a tough task. And for the most part, Brochu didn’t do anything to lose Dave Cameron’s trust on Tuesday night. We’ll see if Canada rotates Sebastian Cossa for the start against Germany but Cameron indicated that a change would only be made due to poor performance.

Brochu made one key mistake, which led to Austria’s first goal of the contest. In the dying seconds of the second period, Brochu came out of his net and took a terrible angle to the puck. He partially deflected the puck to the side wall, where Austria’s Vinzenz Rohrer calmly scooped it up, surveyed the ice, and found Lukas Necesany, who fired it into the open cage as Brochu failed to regain his footing tracking back to his crease.

In the interest of full transparency, I thought Cossa would be Canada’s starter prior to the tournament. Whoops! I also thought Cossa would get the call for the game against Austria, but I was proven wrong once again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, you know how the saying goes, but based on tonight’s performance, one would guess it’s Brochu’s job to lose. Unless Brochu’s lone error was enough to swing the balance. We’ll see!

Here’s to a speedy recovery for the United States

After two players tested positive for COVID-19, the United States forfeited its game against Switzerland, resulting in a 1-0 loss. The team is forced to quarantine, and its status will be re-evaluated prior to Wednesday’s game against Sweden.

This, of course, was within the range of possibilities when the tournament continued onward outside of a bubble environment with the rise of the Omicron variant leading to ascending COVID-19 cases. Several professional leagues have postponed games. And while we’d like this tournament to continue under normal circumstances, for our own entertainment, it seems cruel and anti-labour to advocate for the continuation of the competition, while teams are at risk of contracting the virus.

Here’s to a speedy recovery for the United States.

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