The first change after Canada’s first setback at the world junior championship will be in goal.
Coach Brent Sutter has confirmed that Zach Fucale will replace Jake Paterson as the starting goalie when Canada faces Slovakia on Monday with second place in their preliminary round group standings at stake.
Fucale watched from the bench as Canada opened with a 7-2 win over Germany before dropping a 5-4 decision to the Czech Republic in a shootout. The 18-year-old comes with big game experience, having backstopped the Halifax Mooseheads to a title at the MasterCard Memorial Cup last spring.
“He’s a very confident guy,” Sutter said. “He’s a goalie that has great ability. He’s won a Memorial Cup at a young age. He’s one of two very good goalies here and he’s going to get an opportunity.”
And Fucale may have a chance to earn additional starts with a strong game against Slovakia.
“We’ll see how he plays and we’ll determine that after the game,” said Sutter. “I’m taking it game to game. I haven’t said who’s going to be our number one. We have a plan in place and we’ll see how it unfolds.”
Fucale played one pre-tournament exhibition game against Finland and is anxious to make his first start in a game that counts.
“It hasn’t been difficult at all,” he said about waiting for his chance. “I just wanted to be supportive and stay ready all the time. I’ll just get in the net and play the best I can. That’s all I can really do.”
Forward Charles Hudon, who like Fucale is a Montreal Canadiens prospect, was also in a buoyant mood at practice Sunday. He looks to have earned a regular spot on a line with Jonathan Drouin and Anthony Mantha after sharing the position with 13th forward Taylor Leier.
Drouin and Mantha share the team scoring lead with five points apiece.
Hudon got the tying goal in the third period that forced overtime against the Czechs and earned Canada an important point in the standings.
“I thought he was really good,” Sutter said. “He created a lot of stuff for us and he got a huge goal at a critical time. He’s had a great attitude. He’s stayed positive.”
Hudon lined up with Drouin and Mantha for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League side in the recent Subway Series against Russia, so no adjustment is needed.
“I have to go 100 per cent every shift,” said the five-foot-10 Hudon, who was on right wing while Mantha moved to the left. “It doesn’t matter if I’m on the same line or the 13th forward.”
Leier skated as the extra man on the unit with Bo Horvat, Sam Reinhart and Connor McDavid.
The 16-year-old McDavid was benched in the third period after taking his second minor penalty, both of which led to Czech goals. But Sutter put him in for Canada’s last attempt in the shootout, only to see the puck slide off the gifted forward’s stick before he could shoot.
“You (reporters) make a bigger deal of it than it is,” said Sutter. “He played 13 minutes. He didn’t have the game he probably would like to have, but he’s a very important part of this team.”
McDavid said he’s been benched before and knows he has to be better next game.
“It’s the world stage,” he said. “Everyone’s looking at me as the 16-year-old and I know some people are saying after (Saturday) night that I’m too young for this, so I just want to come back and help the team have a good performance.”
Defenceman Griffin Reinhart will serve the last game of a four-game suspension for slashing an American player in last year’s world junior tournament. He will return for Canada’s last group stage game Tuesday against the Americans.
The six-foot-four rearguard is one of three returning players, along with Drouin and Anderson, from the Canadian team that finished just out of the medals at the 2013 tourney in Ufa, Russia.
His package of size, skill and experience should help a squad whose confidence may have taken a hit with the loss to the Czechs, a team that was beaten 5-1 by the Americans.
“The work ethic is what we have to keep working on,” said Reinhart. “It’s not like the ‘05 team in the lockout year — we’ve go to work to win our games.”
The Edmonton Oil Kings star will join his younger brother, forward Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice, as only the third brother combination to play for Canada at the world juniors.
He said the hardest part of being sidelined was “watching our team lose.”
Reinhart’s return will give Canada seven defencemen. They nearly had to play the Czechs with only five, but Matt Dumba played through a nasty virus. It started during Canada’s win over Germany, and he missed practice the next day with a fever, a bad cough and a sore throat.
“I played, so it’s all good,” said Dumba, a blue-liner with the Minnesota Wild. “Once I got out of bed, I just prepared for game day. I didn’t think about it, I just battled it.
“I’m feeling much better now. I got a good night’s sleep.”
Despite the setback, Canada remains in second place in the five-team group with four points. The U.S. (3-0-0) leads with nine while Slovakia (1-1-0) is third with three. The fourth-place Czechs earned only two points because their win was in a shootout.
The top four teams go the quarter-finals, and Canada has already qualified.