In one of the most bizarre tune-up games you’ll ever see, Canada was able to avoid a massive comeback by Sweden on Wednesday to win their final pre-tournament game 7-6.
After a good ten minutes of back and forth hockey, Canada was able to find the back of the net first. Mathew Barzal, one of the better players at the Under-18’s a few months back, did a great job of forcing Sebastian Aho to surrender the puck after skating around Sweden’s net. Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen was in the perfect position to pick up the disk, skating in slowly before roofing the puck over Linus Soderstrom for the 1-0 goal.
It was a good start for Virtanen, who only scored a single goal at last year’s tournament. This year, there were questions as to whether he would get to play at the WJC’s this year, with the Canucks prospect spending the start of the season in the NHL with Vancouver before getting sent down to the Utica Comets prior to the tournament.
Aho would have to leave the first period after Joe Hicketts tried firing the puck down the middle of the ice with about six minutes to go, hitting the Swedish defender in the face. The Swedes would make up for it by finding the back of the net late in the period, with Oskar Lindblom taking a pass in front from Axel Holmstrom on the power play to tie things up at one apiece after 20 minutes of action.
The one thing Canada always seems to be good for at this tournament is their ability to make some incredible passes around the opposition’s net. Canada would get their second goal of the game after a beautiful forecheck by Brendan Perlini managed to allow Mathew Barzal to get the puck at the side of the net. From there, he made a quick pass out to Dylan Strome in front, who fired the puck past Soderstrom and in for the 2-1 lead after just 3:30 of play in the second.
Then, with nine minutes to go in the middle frame, Canada found themselves back in the lead after scoring on yet another turnover. Mitchell Stephens, who was a star at the Under-18 level for Canada, took advantage of William Nylander and Andreas Englund colliding with each other at Sweden’s blue line. The Tampa Bay Lighting forward would then have all the room in the world to make a play, deking the Swedish netminder before stuffing it past the goal line to make it 3-1 Canada.
Things really fell apart for Soderstrom and the Swedes not too long after that. At the 14:42 mark of the second, Virtanen would get his second of the night after Mitch Marner used great patience to deke around two Swedes before sending it off to the Canucks prospect, who tapped the puck in at the right post for the 4-1 goal. Then, on the very next shot, Haydn Fleury was able to end Soderstrom’s night with a floater from the blue line, giving Canada the 5-1 lead with over a period still left in the contest.
Three quick goals in the first two minutes of the third really changed the game up. First, Marcus Pettersson would get a strange one after his slap shot proved to be way too dangerous for the net, blasting a whole right near the left post to put Sweden behind by two. Then, just 20 seconds after, LA Kings prospect Adrian Kempe would rush quickly into the zone before finding a future rival in Anaheim Ducks first-rounder Jacob Larsson, whose wrist shot beat Mason McDonald for the 5-3 goal.
Canada seemed a little flustered by the third goal, electing to call a timeout. The little break really proved to be useful for them, as Virtanen would register another point after sending the puck over to Roland McKeown. McKeown, a defenseman, would then find Brendan Perlini in front, who scored easily on the empty net to make it 6-3 Canada with 18 minutes still left in the contest.
With half the third period still to go, the game was finally close again. Detroit Red Wings prospect Axel Holmstrom would put his team within one once again after taking a pass from Joel Eriksson Ek, who deked out a defender to make the play.
It was weird enough that the Swedes were able to score one goal by shooting the puck through the net, but to eventually tie the game up with two more goals in a similar fashion was unheard of. Alas, that’s exactly what happened, with Pettersson and Kempe both scoring by firing the puck through the mesh to tie it 6-6.
Canada preferred to score their goals by shooting the puck at a net that didn’t move on them. With four minutes to play in the contest, Marner would tip the puck past the goal line after Rourke Chartier made a solid effort behind the net to keep the play alive. For a minute, it didn’t appear like the game was close to being done, but
Canada will focus their efforts to the first game of the World Juniors, a 1:00 pm EST meeting with the Americans on Boxing Day. Sweden will also start the tournament on the opening day, playing the underdogs from Switzerland with a 9:00 am contest. Canada and Sweden will finish off the preliminary round with a game on New Years Eve, a 1:00 pm EST start before the quarter-finals begin on January 2nd.
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