As the minutes ticked down on Canada’s victory over the United States, the overwhelmingly Canadian crowd of 3,882 at the Isstadion chanted “Foo-KAL-eh!”
That was for goaltender Zach Fucale, the key man in Tuesday’s 3-2 win that gave Canada first place in its preliminary round group and a date with Switzerland in the quarter-finals of the world junior hockey championship.
“It gave me a lot of energy,” the 18-year-old said. “It was very special.
“It just lifts you and you sort of play in the moment. It was good for me and the team.”
Fucale, given a second straight start after helping Canada to a 5-3 win over Slovakia on Saturday, couldn’t recall ever having his name chanted quite that way.
“Maybe a couple of thousand chanting against me,” he offered with a laugh. “In Quebec City it happened. Maybe tonight a little louder.”
Connor McDavid and Curtis Lazar scored in the third period and Fucale stoned Connor Carrick on a breakaway. Stefan Matteau scored for the Americans with 2:15 left to play on a shot that eluded Fucale’s glove, but Canada shut the door the rest of the way to pull off a win in their toughest, most emotionally charged game of the tournament.
American captain Riley Barber and Canada’s Nic Petan traded goals in the second frame, after Fucale shone in a scoreless first period in which the Americans controlled the play and had a 13-6 shot advantage.
Only a regulation time win would give Canada (3-0-1) first place over the U.S. (3-1-0).
The Canadians will face Switzerland in the quarter-finals on Thursday at the Isstadion. As usual, coach Brent Sutter wasn’t offering much insight about his team’s upcoming opponent.
“We now have 48 hours to prepare for our next opponent. Our focus over the next two days needs to be on this game and only on this game,” was all he would say.
The Swiss pulled off a 4-3 shootout win over Finland, but it didn’t lift them out of fourth place in their group. What the win did, however, was give the Americans a very tough quarter-final opponent in Russia.
The Canadian squad got all it needed to win — solid goaltending, timely scoring and strong special teams play.
The Americans went into the game with a whopping 58 per cent power play success rate (11-for-19), but were held scoreless during all three man advantages.
Canada answered with Lazar’s power-play marker in five opportunities.
“It was the first time we’ve been minus on special teams in four games and that was the difference,” said American coach Don Lucia.
Technically, Barber’s goal at 3:29 of the second was short-handed. The teams were each down a man and Barber came around the net and caught Fucale moving the wrong way one second after Canada’s Taylor Leier’s slashing call expired.
Some hard work by Anthony Mantha produced the tying goal at 12:49, as he used his long reach to push the puck to the left side where Petan trailed in late to beat Jon Gilles to an open side. Petan had scored the game-winner and an empty-net goal in Canada’s 5-3 win over Slovakia on Monday.
Mantha picked up his team-leading 10th point in four games.
Canada killed a penalty to start the third and then got one just as their own power play ended 3:54 into the third when Josh Morrissey got the puck to the net and McDavid had two chances to slide it past Gilles.
The 16-year-old McDavid was under pressure since his benching in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Czech Republic, and scoring a goal could go a long way to restoring confidence in the highly skilled Erie Otters forward.
“Maybe a little bit,” said McDavid. “As a hockey player you have to stay even keeled. Things happen in the game. The highs, the lows. You have to remain pretty confident. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
Lazar was camped in front for the re-direct on a power play at 6:13 as the puck went from Derrick Pouliot to Jonathan Drouin to the Edmonton forward for his second goal in as many games.
“I’m really getting into my element,” the Ottawa Senators prospect said. “Coach Sutter’s been moving me around. I’ve played centre, right and left wing. I’m still getting used to things, but it feels good to contribute.”
The game also saw big forward Frederik Gauthier moved from left wing to centre, where he drew praise from Sutter for winning several defensive zone faceoffs.
But most of the post-game attention was on Fucale, the chatty goaltender who backstopped the Halifax Mooseheads to a Memorial Cup last spring. Fucale was dropped to backing up Jake Paterson after the first of three pre-tournament exhibition games, but it looks like he’s Sutter’s man now.
“He’s a confident young man and he stood tall,” said Sutter. “We need that.”
Fucale’s teammates laugh about Fucale’s non-stop talking, even when he’s by himself in the net during games.
“I try to stay low key, but maybe I talk a lot,” Fucale said.
“I love Zach,” said forward and fellow Montreal Canadiens prospect Charles Hudon. “I played with him peewee and bantam (in Boisbriand, Que.) and he had the same swagger.
“He was always cocky. It was a good for him and I think the crowd loved it too.”
“It was unbelievable standing on the blue-line at the end of the game with the fans chanting Fucale,” said McDavid. “I had chills and it wasn’t for me, so I can’t imagine how he felt.
“You see a lot of goalies and they’re pretty weird. They have their routines and you can’t talk to them, but he’s really relaxed and honestly, he does have that swagger.”
Canada also got a boost with the return of big defenceman Griffin Reinhart after serving a four-game suspension for a slash at last year’s world juniors. Reinhart was counted on to be the leader on defence and he showed it with 20 minutes of ice time, mostly paired with Matt Dumba.
He finally got to play at a world juniors with his younger brother, forward Sam Reinhart. The two were on the ice together a lot, especially while penalty killing.