Canada may have finished the preliminary round undefeated, but teen star Connor Bedard says he and his teammates have more to give as they move on to elimination games at the world junior hockey championship.
The Canadians (4-0-0) sit at the top of the standings as they prepare to take on Switzerland (1-3-0) in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
“I think our goal is still to get better every game,” Bedard said Monday after notching a goal and an assist in Canada’s 6-3 victory over Finland.
“Finland’s going to be one of the top teams and what we showed (on Monday) was pretty big for us. And we want to continue that momentum into Wednesday.”
Bedard’s play has been a highlight for Canada so far in the tournament.
The 17-year-old forward from North Vancouver, B.C., opened the scoring for the host nation in its 5-2 victory over Latvia and has put up at least one point in every game (three goals, four assists).
An early favourite to be the first overall pick in the 2023 NHL entry draft, Bedard is simply a special player, said captain Mason McTavish.
“There’s so many highlights of him,” he said. “He’s elite and his shot is just crazy.”
McTavish has been an offensive force for Canada and leads the tournament in scoring with 13 points (seven goals, six assists).
The 19-year-old Anaheim Ducks prospect has played a lot of hockey in recent months, helping the Hamilton Bulldogs to an Ontario Hockey League championship and pulling on the Maple Leaf at the Beijing Olympics.
A veteran of big games, McTavish said his mindset won’t change much heading into the quarterfinals.
“Obviously it’s an elimination game, anything can happen,” he said. “I think we’ve got to come out way sharper and with more jump off the start, kind of dictate the pace off the start.”
Canada trailed just once during the preliminary round, when Czechia — the country commonly known as the Czech Republic — opened the scoring in their round-robin matchup on Saturday. The Canadians roared back for a 5-1 victory.
Special teams have been key for Canada, which has converted on 6-of-10 power plays and conceded just two goals on 11 penalties.
Over the course of four games, the Canadians outscored their opponents 27-7 and they lead the world juniors with a plus-20 goal differential.
In order to see their tournament continue, the team needs to top the Swiss on Wednesday.
Switzerland clinched its quarterfinal berth with its lone win of the tournament so far, a 3-2 victory over Austria. But Canada knows nothing is for certain in the world juniors.
“We know (the Swiss) didn’t have the greatest success in this tournament but we know it’s a great team,” said Canadian forward Nathan Gaucher. “They’re going to be there, they’re going to challenge us. They’re a skill team, a little bit. So we’ve just got to play our best game, even better than the Finland game.”
Wednesday’s other quarterfinal matchups will see the reigning champion Americans (4-0-0) take on the Czechs (1-2-1), Sweden (3-1-0) battle Latvia (1-2-1), and Finland (3-1-0) face Germany (2-2-0).
Goalie Dylan Garand is the lone player on the Canadian team to have previously suited up for an elimination game at the world juniors.
The 20-year-old New York Rangers prospect was part of the squad that captured silver when the 2021 tournament was played in Edmonton without fans in the stands due to COVID-19 restrictions.
This year’s group isn’t concerned heading into the quarterfinals, Garand said.
“What we’re here to do is to win. So we’re not really scared of elimination (games),” he said. “We want to win those games and accomplish our goal of a gold medal.”
—Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press