Hockey games at the elite level involve decisions – hundreds of them, made rapidly and under intense psychological and physical duress.
Some people call this fun.
In any case, when something looks and feels like a decisive moment, the ability to judge exactly when to dive in becomes the difference between the good and the great.
An example: When Team Canada forward Mitchell Stephens’s blind pass wobbled into the slot during the world junior hockey championship quarter-final against the Czechs, defenceman Thomas Chabot was presented with a dilemma.
“To be honest with you, I was thinking I probably shouldn’t go for it,” the Ottawa Senators prospect said. “I was the last guy back; it’s a tie game.”
But the opposing winger was also slightly out of position, there was a bit of space to get to the middle of the ice – so why not?
What followed may live on as a signature moment of the 2017 tournament.
Chabot deked around the Czech covering him, bulled through the stick check of another and fired home a quick, low shot that made it a 3-2 game – a lead Canada would not relinquish.
Pliny the Elder once said (in a somewhat different context – he was commanding a Roman naval vessel) that fortune favours the bold.
Yeah, as long as the puck doesn’t get turned over near the blueline.
After scoring his third goal of the event – “that’s more than he has in Saint John this year,” joked Team Canada and Sea Dogs teammate Mathieu Joseph – Chabot leaped into the glass in a moment that seemed equal parts elation and catharsis. The 19-year-old is one of five returning players from the squad that fell in the quarter-final in Finland a year ago. He also suffered the indignity of getting cut by the Sens – who drafted him 18th over all in 2015 – and being told off in public at the team’s summer development camp because his game lacked intensity.
“I was disappointed to get sent back down to junior, but when that happened, my focus became this tournament,” said the native of Sainte-Marie, Que., who stands a solid 6 foot 2.
You might say it has gone well. Chabot leads all defencemen in scoring in the tournament. When the quarter-final game was over, fans could be heard chanting his name.
“Well, I did have about 60 people from my family here,” he said afterward with a smile. (That they could be heard so distinctly was also a function of the disappointing Bell Centre attendance: 10,215.)
And though his game has scaled new heights despite losing regular partner Philippe Myers to injury, he’s not satisfied just yet.
“I don’t think at this level you can do everything on your own,” he said, “I won’t be happy until we get the job done.”
If Canada is to reach the gold-medal game, they’ll have to get by unbeaten Sweden and winger Alex Nylander, the tournament’s top scorer, in Wednesday’s semi-final.
It’ll be Chabot’s job, along with Brandon Wheat Kings rearguard Kale Clague (an L.A. Kings prospect) to shut down the top line of Nylander, Filip Ahl and Swedish captain Joel Eriksson Ek.
Canadian coach Dominique Ducharme said that for all Chabot’s offensive prowess, he’s been just as efficient in Team Canada’s end.
“He’s dominant, both with the puck and on the defensive side. He’s the boss back there, and I’ve really liked the way he’s reacted to his responsibilities,” Ducharme said.
The Canada/Sweden match will hinge on which team succeeds in asserting its quick-passing, swift-skating possession game, which means Chabot and his fellow blueliners – who as a group are perhaps less heralded than the Swedish defence – will have a crucial role in transition.
It’s a nip-and-tuck game, which may explain why Ducharme felt the need to engage in a little gamesmanship. He played coy when asked who would start in net and proclaimed that while Sweden typically excels in the round-robin stage of the championship – he said “they haven’t lost in 10 years or something like that” – the medal round is a different story.
“They have ways to lose when things get tough for them,” he said, “and we want to make it tough on them.”Report Typo/Error