CANADA EDGES FINNS TO FINISH PERFECT PRELIMS AT U18 WORLDS
JASON LA ROSE
GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Evan Fitzpatrick (Lower Sackville, N.S./Sherbrooke, QMJHL) was terrific, making 26 saves and leading Canada’s National Men’s Under-18 Team past Finland 3-1 on Tuesday afternoon in the preliminary round finale for both at the 2016 IIHF U18 World Championship.
The win gives Canada first place in Group B with an unblemished 4-0 record in the round robin, and means the Canadians will face either Russia or Switzerland in Thursday’s quarter-finals (time to be confirmed).
Pascal Laberge (Ste-Martine, Que./Victoriaville, QMJHL), David Quenneville (Edmonton, Alta./Medicine Hat, WHL) and Tyson Jost (Kelowna, B.C./Penticton, BCHL) had the goals for Canada.
Facing last year’s silver medallists with 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship MVP Jesse Puljujärvi in the line-up, the Canadians got the quick start they wanted with two first-period goals.
Laberge opened the scoring on the power play just past the seven-minute mark of the opening frame, carrying the puck to the top of the face-off circle before going low to beat Finnish netminder Leevi Laakso.
Quenneville made it a 2-0 game just over five minutes after that, letting go a slap shot from the point that made its way through traffic and through Laakso.
Fitzpatrick took over from there, making his three best saves in the second period – one with the glove, one with the right pad, and one on a shorthanded breakaway – although he got some help from his friends; the Finns hit three posts through the first 40 minutes.
Finland held a 12-7 advantage in shots on goal in the third period, and finally got one behind Fitzpatrick when Eetu Tuulola redirected a point shot past the Canadian netminder with 5:16 to go.
But Jost iced the win in the final minute, outracing a Finnish defenceman before tapping the puck into an empty net with 36.6 seconds to go.
The Canadians continued their strong play at five-on-five; they allowed five goals in four games through the preliminary round, and only two of those came with the teams at even strength.
Thursday, April 21 (4:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. PT), quarter-final against Switzerland at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, N.D. All Team Canada games are being broadcast on TSN and RDS.
“Our coaching staff and us as a team, we really sat down and focused on [Finland’s] strengths and what we needed to do to win. We didn’t focus too much on them, but we needed to focus on the team aspect in the locker room and I thought we went out there and executed the game plan.”
-Dante Fabbro (Coquitlam, B.C./Penticton, BCHL)
“We wanted to make sure that we were ready to play our game from the beginning, and to me, that was the best start we’ve had in the tournament. Credit to the guys – they were very focused heading into the game. You have to give Finland and their coaching staff and players credit, they just kept battling; they played hard, and play with a lot of structure, and found a way to really make it close at the end. You eventually have to beat everybody but we wanted to make sure that if we could, we had the opportunity to win our pool and now we’ll just get a day of rest and go from there.”
–Shaun Clouston, head coach, Canada’s National Men’s Under-18 Team