In 2021, coach Gerard Gallant’s squad lost three consecutive games to open the Worlds for the first time ever, falling 2-0 to Latvia, 5-1 to the U.S., and 3-1 to Germany. This year, under Claude Julien, they’ve opened with three nice wins, 5-3 over Germany, 6-1 over Italy, and 5-1 over Slovakia.
So there’s justifiable reason for optimism among fans from Vancouver to Halifax right now. Captain Thomas Chabot echoed that sentiment – in a cautious and professional manner.
“I think the biggest thing for us as a group is really getting used to playing with each other and getting used to different systems,” said Chabot, a 25-year-old Ottawa Senators defenceman who was named MVP of the 2017 World Juniors and earned a 2019 Worlds silver medal in Slovakia. “Obviously, we all come from different teams, playing 82 games with different systems. Right now, it's every game we're trying to adjust with who we play and the way we want to play. It's not perfect yet, but you can tell from the first game to now, we're definitely improving and getting there.”
It’s still early days, but here are 5 reasons to believe Canada can repeat.
1) Dubois is on fireOver the years, many Canadian aces have led the Worlds scoring race when their nation marched to gold, including Dany Heatley (2004, 2008), Jason Spezza (2015), and Connor Brown (2021). Now, that’s not a prerequisite for victory, but it’s certainly exciting to see Pierre-Luc Dubois playing the way the Columbus Blue Jackets envisioned when they drafted him third overall in 2016.
Currently a member of the Winnipeg Jets, Dubois has already tallied a team-leading four goals and an assist in three games. The 23-year-old power forward’s most spectacular play was scoring while lying on the ice against surprised Slovak netminder Adam Huska. Driving play on a line with Nicolas Roy and Dylan Cozens, Dubois has accomplished a lot in an average per-game ice time of just 15:38. And with the opposition forced to key more on superstar Mathew Barzal, who arrived from the New York Islanders for the win over Italy, it opens up even more ice for Dubois.
2) The kids are all rightFew teenage hockey prospects can be like Juraj Slafkovsky, who was named Olympic MVP in February at age 17 with a tournament-high seven goals for Slovakia’s bronze-medal team. However, Canada’s Kent Johnson, 19, and Cole Sillinger, 18, have fit in seamlessly and productively with this team so far. Both these Columbus Blue Jackets first-round draft picks have already chipped in a pair of goals and are taking a regular shift.
Johnson has the more impressive IIHF pedigree after scoring at both the truncated World Juniors in Edmonton and the Olympics in Beijing this year. But Sillinger – the son of 2000 Canadian Worlds captain Mike Sillinger – is building on his strong rookie season in Columbus (16+15=31 in 79 games). If the kids can keep it up as the games intensify, it certainly boosts Canada’s hopes of repeating.
3) Julien is spreading the minutes aroundCanada is pacing itself nicely so far. In fact, the smooth-skating Chabot is the only Canadian in the top 30 tournament players in terms of ice time, and his per-game average of 21:27 is way down from what he averaged with Ottawa this past NHL season (26:12). We’ll likely see adjustments as Canada faces stiffer opposition like Switzerland (Saturday), but for now, Julien is doing a great job of keeping everybody involved and also fresh for the medal round.
4) Canada is strong on faceoffsIn the early days of the Soviet hockey program, scant attention was paid to faceoffs, as they figured they’d soon get the puck back with their skating and skill set. That’s never been the Canadian way. Faceoffs are a cornerstone of Canada’s game. And that tradition endures in Helsinki.
So far, three Canadian centres are over 60 percent on the draw: Barzal (72.7 percent), Nicolas Roy (64.0 percent), and Dubois (61.1 percent). With Canada already sitting at 16 goals and 101 shots through three games, that ability to gain possession is paying early dividends.
5) They’re keeping it pretty cleanThe reality is that the image of Canadians as gap-toothed brawlers who’d rather throw a big bodycheck than make a nice pass is long gone. Canada regularly ranks among the least-penalized teams at IIHF tournaments. So far, the 2022 Worlds are no exception.
Unlike the Olympic champion Finns, who have seen Juho Lammikko and Saku Maenalanen drop the gloves, the defending World Champions have registered zero fighting majors. Canada is averaging just eight PIM per game (24 total so far).
Granted, there’s room to clean up the execution on the PK, having surrendered three power play goals on 12 disadvantages. Yet overall, this is another area where Canada is trending in the right direction on the road to gold in Tampere on 29 May.