George slams door for win
by Chris Jurewicz|02 MAY 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Chris Tanouye
The Latvians didn’t roll over, they didn’t play dead and they likely surprised some people in the Vantaa Trio Arena.

The effort wasn’t enough, though, as Canada defeated Latvia 4-0 to advance to the semi-finals of the 2024 IIHF U18 World Championship.

Maxim Masse and Ryder Ritchie gave Canada a 2-0 lead in the first period and then it was the Carter George show, as he stopped 23 shots for his second shutout of the tournament. The Latvians hung around for the entire game but couldn’t solve George who, maybe surprisingly, was forced to make saves on a number of Grade A chances.

"We knew they were going to play hard. They work so hard and play a good, structured game. They play pretty defensively and they have a good goalie over there," said Ritchie. "No game in this tournament is easy. It was a tough game, for sure."

Despite the two-goal deficit, the Latvians had a strong opening period. Midway through the first, they had a 12-10 advantage on the shot clock and a number of great looks in close on George.

Masse opened the scoring on a Canadian power play, the team’s seventh goal with the man advantage so far. Canada’s leading scorer Gavin McKenna added to his point total when he found himself in Gretzky’s Office behind the opposition’s net and made a perfect pass to Masse, who scored his second of the tournament.

“I saw Gavin McKenna with the puck at the back of the net and he’s going to see everything from there,” Masse told TSN during the first intermission. “I just went to the net stick down and he put it on my stick and I just have to shoot it in after that.”

Later in the frame, Tig Iginla fired a shot at the Latvian goal but it was deflected wide, with the puck rolling to the corner. Ritchie scooped it up, turned back towards the top of the faceoff circle and found space to wire home his second of the U18s.

Canada played keep away during most of the second period, limiting the Latvians to six shots, the first of which didn’t come until the 14-minute mark.

Latvia’s finest moment of the second came in the final few minutes. Markuss Sieradzkis blocked a shot in his end and rushed up the ice on a 1-on-1. He made an incredible move to slide the puck between the legs of Harrison Brunicke and then went around him to get a good shot on goal, but George once again made the save.

Porter Martone provided the third goal and much-needed insurance in the third when he tipped in a shot by Caleb Desnoyers at 12:47. Jett Luchanko scored into an empty net with one minute left.

One of George’s best saves came in the third on a Latvian 2-on-1. Sieradzkis, who had a fantastic game for the losing side, tried to send a pass to linemate Harijs Cjunskis, but McKenna got a stick on the puck and inadvertently tipped it on the Canadian goal, with George having to react quickly to stop and hold the puck.

"He’s the backbone of our team," said Ritchie about George. "He keeps us in it when we’re not playing our best and he made some massive saves. It could have been a whole different game if a couple of those went in. He played really well again."

Canada’s win means it will face Sweden for the second-straight year at the U18 semis. Last year, the Swedes smoked the Canadians 7-2, with Canada then needing overtime to beat Slovakia 4-3 in the bronze medal game.

During preliminary-round action this year, Canada doubled up Sweden 6-3.