On the day that Jonathan Huberdeau made Canada’s 2012 world junior hockey team without playing a single shift in the tryout camp, coach Don Hay explained his rationale this way:
“The date you’re looking for is Dec. 26, so he has time to get himself into competitive shape,” Hay said. “It might not be the shape he was in, in May of last year, but he’ll continue to get better each day, the more he skates and the more he plays.”
Put prophet on the list of Hay’s accomplishments. On Boxing Day, in the tournament opener, Huberdeau produced five points on a goal and four assists to lead Canada to a convincing 8-1 win against an overmatched Finland.
Huberdeau, the most valuable player in last year’s Memorial Cup, was the set-up man and Mark Stone the triggerman in the win over the Finns, two-thirds of a line that got together for the first time back in the summer evaluation camp. At the time, the centre was Ryan Johansen, but Johansen is absent from the tournament and playing in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets. So Ryan Strome was inserted in Johansen’s place, and even if Strome to Stone might be a mouthful for the play-by-play guys, it was a combination that worked magic against a Finnish team that seemed a step behind all afternoon.
Scoring was supposed to be an issue for this team and may be later against defensively sounder opponents, but it was an offensive free-for-all Monday against a Finnish team that gave Canada all it could handle in pretournament action.
Stone scored three times, while Huberdeau and Strome contributed one apiece. The other goals came from Brendan Gallagher, whose first-period tally on a backhand, baseball-style swing turned out to be the winner; plus Dougie Hamilton and Brett Connolly. Goaltender Mark Visentin didn’t have a particularly taxing day, but he was good when he needed to be, and that was for about a two-minute span early in the second period after Alexander Ruuttu, son of former NHLer Christian Ruuttu, scored Finland’s only goal to make it a 2-1 game.
Not long after, Stone scored his second of the game on a delayed penalty to the Finns and whatever momentum the visitors were building vanished.
It was a particularly tough day for Finnish goaltender Christopher Gibson, who surrendered all eight goals, as coach Raimo Helminen stuck with him long after the game was decided. Finland didn’t get its usual offensive spark from the Granlund brothers, Mikael and Markus, who were largely held in check by Canada’s checking line, centred by Freddie Hamilton.
The only downside came midway through the second period when Devante Smith-Pelly, on loan to Canada from the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, injured his left leg blocking a shot. Smith-Pelly left the arena on crutches to go for X-rays and late Monday night the Ducks announced he had fractured his left foot and will be sidelined four to six weeks.
He is finished for the tournament, meaning Canada will be down to 12 forwards for the rest of the world juniors.
It was particularly noteworthy that Canada played well defensively, with both Brandon Gormley and Ryan Murray turning in quietly effective performances. Murray’s partner, Scott Harrington, also made a key save on Mikael Granlund with the score 3-1 Canada, diving in front of a shot with Visentin trapped on the far post. Seconds later, with Finland’s Konsta Makinen in the penalty box, Huberdeau was given all the room he needed on the power play to walk into the faceoff circle and wrist a shot past Gibson.
“I thought the crowd gave us lots of life, lots of energy,” Hay told TSN. “We came out, we were physical, we took the puck to the net and we were rewarded for it. It was a good way to start. Now we have to get focused on the next game.”
The next game is Wednesday against the Czech Republic, which makes its tournament debut Tuesday against Denmark.
As for his decision to go with Visentin in goal, Hay said: “Mark played very well. I thought he was very solid. When the game was 2-1 and they were pushing a little, he stood in there and made some big saves. It’s great for his confidence. I’m really happy for him.”