It was the rubber match between Canada and Russia in the gold medal game at the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships. It was the ninth meeting in their history with the series tied at 4-4 until today when Canada defeated Russia. Nothing much separated these two teams entering the game. Why would the final score be any different?
Canada Wins 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships
This is the second straight victory for Canada over Russia in the gold medal game. Their last meeting came in 2015 when a team led by Connor McDavid and Max Domi defeated Russia in Toronto. Canada now has a record of 10-7 in the gold medal game since 1996, when the IIHF instituted the medal round formed.
It was a fast-paced game as both teams trading scoring chances. You would not expect anything less between two rivals. Canada likes to play a more skilled game, while the Russians play a heavier style of game. But Russia has the speed to match Canada. Like many of the games previously, special teams played a factor in the outcome of the game.
Both teams traded power-play goals in the second period. Nikita Alexandrov opened the scoring for Russia. Minutes after Dylan Cozens tied the game for Canada, who was on a 5-on-3 power play for a full two minutes. Russia retook the lead late in the second period one a goal from Grigori Denisenko, who picked up his third goal of the tournament. With a little over 10 minutes left in the third period, Russia extended its lead when Maxim Sorkin scored. Thirty-four seconds later, Connor McMichael answered for Canada to cut the deficit to one goal.
Following that, Canada got another power play midway through the period. It was none other than captain Barrett Hayton that scored on it. He wasn’t even expected to play today after a scary injury in the semi-final game. However, is resilient play sparked a Canada comeback. It was then Akil Thomas that made a beautiful move while falling down to put Canada ahead 4-3 late. He had played under four minutes in the game but made the most of it.
Since taking over the net from Nico Daws back on December 28th, St. Louis Blues fourth-round draft Joel Hofer has been locked in. Hofer is channelling his inner Jordan Binnington remaining calm and cool for Canada. Like Binnington, Hofer is not feeling the nerves playing on the national stage for Canada. He does not feel the pressure wearing the Canadian Maple Leaf. Instead, Hofer is thriving under pressure. When your goaltender is playing with confidence, it allows those in front of him to play their game.
When Canada needed the big save especially when Russia was on the power play four times in the first period, Hofer was there. He kept pucks out of the high danger areas and swallowed up rebounds. This allowed the penalty killers to be more aggressive. Even when the Russians had the lead, Hofer’s confidence never wavered. He remained calm in between the pipes for Canada.
This should come as no surprise to anyone. While Hofer was not anyone’s radar in the summer, his play this season with the Portland Winterhawks made him the right choice for Canada. In 27 games this season Hofer has a 1.81 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. He carried that play into the World Juniors. In six games Hofer has a 1.30 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.
Special Teams – 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships
Canada’s special teams were a huge factor in their win over Russia. Canada took the air out fo the Russians killing off all four penalties in the first period. Even though they surrounded a power play in the second period, Canada’s power play answered the challenge. When Canada had the opportunity on the power play, they made Russia pay for their undisciplined penalties. Canada’s special teams allowed their top players to reestablish their game after being short-handed for most of the first period. Hayton’s tieing goal in the third also came after a Russian penalty and it was the obvious turning point for Canada. In the end, Russia game unglued by taking two penalties in the final two minutes that sealed their fate.
It was a thrilling 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships, fitting for such a final to happen.