EDMONTON — It was of those games you’ll never remember — unless Canada loses it. Then, it would never be forgotten.
It was dull, it was workmanlike, it was frustrating and at times sloppy. But it turned into a win for Team Canada, which ground out a 3-1 victory over Slovakia on Sunday in Edmonton.
“Concentrate on your work ethic, your courage, and … as a team we can just do good things,” Slovak head coach Robert Petrovicky told his players. “Our boys are happy to be here, and we want to do something special as a team.”
They very nearly did.
After a 16-2 win over Germany the night before, this was a brown out for Canada, which scored 4:06 into the game and again 3:25 before the final buzzer, while adding an empty netter. In between it was a power outage, as the country that gave hockey the brothers Stastny, Zdeno Chara and Miroslav Satan gave Canada a (cough) devil of a time in their second game at the 2021 World Juniors.
Dylan Holloway took the skate but did not play due to injury, joining injured captain Kirby Dach, while defenceman Braden Schneider was serving a one-game suspension for a head shot delivered against Germany. That’s OK though, because it was his replacement, Jordan Spence, who scored the game-opening Canadian goal that stood up for most of the night.
On Saturday, Canada had 10 different goal scorers and points from 17 of 20 players. On Sunday, Canada had just 23 shots on goal.
Here are our takeaways, as Canada moves to 2-0 at the tournament.
The Whitehorse Workhorse
Dylan Cozens is emerging as the leader of a team that lost captain Kirby Dach before the tournament even began. The Buffalo Sabres draftee followed a six-point night versus Germany with a key assist Sunday and an all-around performance that just oozed leadership.
“Cozy was really solid for us today,” Canadian coach Andre Tourigny said. “It wasn’t easy … and at some point we had a little bit of emotion on the bench. Dylan stayed calm and cool, and his presence was really good. He stayed patient and that translated to his teammates.”
Remember, Tourigny’s team has barely played together — just one pre-tournament game and two more after that. There is much to learn, and little time to do it inside the short window of this tournament.
“We grew as a group tonight,” Tourigny said. “We learned to go through adversity, and to keep our composure. It went away a little bit, in the second period we were forcing it, but by the end of the period we were patient with the outcome. Not panicking or trying to force it.
“As a team we learned,” he continued. “You learn about your players when the pressure is on. Who changes their game? Who just stays composed? Dylan Cozens really stayed with it. He’s been in that tough situation before, and it showed.”
It was Devon Levi’s birthday, but Jordan Spence got the present.
After being a healthy scratch in Game 1, Spence scored on his first shift of the game, a goal that held up most of the night for Canada.
“A loose puck in front of the net and it came right to me. Pretty cool,” said Spence, lucky to draw in due to Schneider’s suspension. “It’s been amazing. It was unfortunate for Schneider to get suspended, and I got the call I was going to be in the lineup. Obviously a lot of emotions going on, being scratched, coming back the next day and then scoring. It’s amazing.”
At the other end, Levi was spending his 19th birthday trying to stay awake. The Slovaks had just four shots in each of the first two periods.
“I woke up, ate breakfast and focused on the game. Didn’t go on the phone much … I’ll answer my birthday wishes later. Just being here is enough,” Levi said. “It’s definitely not easy to get eight shots in the first two periods, then come into quite a few shots (nine in the third). Being a 1-0 game definitely kept me in it. I stayed focused, and just concentrated on the next shot.”
There is a lot of talk around Team Canada about the process. Don’t worry about the score, the kind of game being played, or whether you’re getting the bounces. Just play the way you’re supposed to play.
“Just stay humble,” Spence said, “and don’t let the distractions get in our way.”
When Canada beats a team by 14 we shrug our shoulders and say, “Mismatch.” So, when a country like Slovakia comes out and gives out boys everything they can handle, let’s tip our cap to them, shall we?
Led by head coach and NHL veteran Petrovicky — Hartford, Dallas, St. Louis, Tampa, New York Islanders — the Slovaks have never been a U-20 powerhouse.
“After the second period the game was close,” said Petrovicky, who told his players during the second intermission, “to wait for the opportunity. It will come. It didn’t go our way at the end of the game. But I am very proud of the boys.
“Of course, we were playing a patient game and waiting for our chance. We were getting closer and closer, had a couple of chances … Every player has to buy in — that’s what we come for. To play as a team. We lost the game but I felt we played well, played hard. I’m proud of the guys.”
The only scoreless tie in Canada’s World Junior history came against the Slovaks in 1999 at Winnipeg, and since then Canada has won 14 straight in this matchup. At 14-0-1, Canada has never lost to the Slovaks, outscoring them 75-16. This game was much closer than expected, to be sure.
“After the game we were happy,” said Martin Chromiak, who had the only Slovak goal on a blistering power play wrister that made the score 2-1 for Canada with 1:24 to play. “We had so many opportunities to score a tying goal. But I think we did a really good job. We watched the game yesterday (against Germany) but we didn’t think about it.”
Goalie Samuel Hlavac only saw 23 shots. Compared to the 44 Canada fired on the German nets — or the 73 that the United States wired at the Austrian net on Boxing Day — this was almost a night off for the Slovak goaltender.
“It’s Canada, so we expect the worse,” Hlavac said. “But we played a really good game. Our guys blocked every shot, I think we can build on this game for the future.
“In the D zone we were not giving them the space. Just gave the shots from the blue-line.”
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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