Canada’s toughest matchup of the U18 tournament occurred against Finland on Tuesday, but a 3-2 victory was good enough to secure the top seed in Group B prior to the quarter-finals on Thursday.
Canada’s victory didn’t come easy, that’s for sure. 9:03 into the opening frame, Aleksi Saarela jammed in the puck after a crazy scramble in front of Evan Cormier to take the 1-0 lead. With 28 seconds remaining in the period, Patrik Laine, a potential top ten pick at the 2016 NHL Draft, made it 2-0 after taking a pass from fellow top prospect Jesse Puljujarvi and scoring on a two-on-one rush.
The second period saw some quick Canadian action, leading to a victory before the third period had even commenced. Matt Barzal, who finished the preliminary round tied for first in scoring with Auston Matthews of USA, scored with the man advantage just before the period hit the ten minute mark. Less than a minute later, defenseman Thomas Chabot tied the game with a power-play goal of his own, knotting the game up at two.
With four minutes left in the game, an underaged forward helped give Canada the victory. 17-year-old Tyler Benson, a budding star with the Vancouver Giants, outmuscled Finnish player Jonne Tammela and shoveled the puck past netminder Veini Vehvilainen, grabbing the 3-2 lead and giving Canada the 3-2 victory to finish first place in their group.
With the victory, the Canadians will meet Sweden in the first game of the quarter-finals. Sweden, usually a hockey powerhouse at the U20 level, won just one game all tournament long, defeating Germany by a score of 7-1 on Saturday. Last year, Canada and Sweden met in the bronze medal game, with the Canadians taking the 3-1 victory to grab the bronze medal.
Thursday’s game is set for 10am EST.
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