Fraser Minten has seen his team play to its supposed identity in spurts.
Canada’s captain knows the buzzword — “relentless” — constantly bandied about the country’s camp at the world junior hockey championship is a standard the group needs to get to more often.
That, in turn, should lead to more offence. There also isn’t much time to figure it out.
Canada, which was shut out for the first time at the under-20 event since 2021 when Sweden blanked the two-time defending gold medallists 2-0 on Friday inside a frothing Scandinavium arena, hasn’t really got going at the tournament.
The Canadians beat Finland 5-2 in their opener — the score was a little misleading thanks to a pair of empty-net goals — and dismantled hapless Latvia 10-0 before falling to the hosts.
The well-drilled Swedes suffocated Canada’s attack, and a 10-minute lull cost the North Americans.
“We’ve got to get there for the whole game,” Minten said of coming at opponents in waves. “Speed is probably our biggest advantage, and our depth.”
“The team that we want to be,” added defenceman Denton Mateychuk. “There’s bumps in the road in a tournament like this.”
Head coach Alan Letang said that’s been an emphasis since Day 1 for a squad lacking the game-breakers of past world juniors teams.
“When you say the word ‘relentless’ the meaning is you need it for 60 minutes,” he said after Saturday’s practice. “If we don’t have it for 60 then, yeah, it’s not enough.
“That’s the whole point.”
Canada, which faces Germany in its final preliminary round matchup Sunday, has six points from its three games, and needs a victory of any kind to guarantee second place in Group A. Sweden secured top spot with Friday’s triumph.
“We weren’t expecting to win every single game,” said forward Conor Geekie. “A little adversity doesn’t hurt anyone.”
Star centre Macklin Celebrini, the 17-year-old projected to go No. 1 at the 2024 NHL draft, has two goals and four assists to lead Canada, but five of those six points came against Latvia.
The team simply needs more from veterans used to scoring in bunches at other levels.
Matthew Poitras, a forward lent to Canada by the Boston Bruins, had an empty netter against the Finns and scored against Latvia, while snipers Matthew Savoie and Jordan Dumais haven’t found the back of the net. Easton Cowan, meanwhile, is the only player on the roster without a point.
“Guys that are used to scoring are gonna feel that,” Minten, who played four games with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fall, said of any growing frustration. “Everybody on our team puts pucks in the net back in junior. Different than what guys are used to. Everyone that’s here is also here because they’re successful, and they’re successful because they’re mentally tough.
“Everyone’s got their own way of dealing with it.”
Letang said that by Hockey Canada’s count, the team had 49 shot attempts despite forcing Swedish goaltender Hugo Havelid into just 21 saves.
“Starts with hitting the net and creating second and third opportunities,” he said. “You go from there.”
Letang, who was an assistant last year when Canada stumbled in its opener before recovering to win gold, tinkered with his lines Saturday.
He put Celebrini, who wasn’t available to reporters for a second straight day, with Minten and Dumais, while Poitras was between Geekie and Brayden Yager to round out the top two lines.
Forward Owen Beck said Canada, minus its usual star power with five players in the pros plus two more unavailable due to injury, is a motivated bunch after Friday.
“We came in here with an underdog mentality,” he said. “That was a tough loss, but you don’t win the tournament in Game 3.”
Letang said his team will continue to strive for that identity — being relentless — and what that entails.
Canada learned a lesson Friday.
“Every tiny little moment, every tiny little detail makes the difference,” Letang said. “We’re continuing to emphasize that.
“It really gets magnified.”
SAVOIE SITS, FIRKUS ADDED
Savoie, a Buffalo Sabres draft pick, wasn’t available to the media after Friday’s game and sat out Saturday’s practice.
“A little bit of rest, a little bit of maintenance,” Letang said. “We’ll see how he’s feeling.”
Canada added forward Jagger Firkus, who was cut from selection camp, to its 25-player roster Saturday.
ROUSSEAU A GO
Canadian goaltender Mathis Rousseau, who was given the day off, will get a fourth straight start on New Year’s Eve against the Germans.
“Don’t think he’s been extremely overworked,” Letang said. “He’s made some huge saves when he’s needed to. We’ll run him again.”
Beck, a Montreal Canadiens prospect, was hit awkwardly into the boards by Sweden’s Zeb Forsfjall on Friday. The sequence was initially called a penalty, but overturned following video review.
Beck stayed down and went to the locker room, but returned to finish the game.
“I don’t have stripes on my shirt,” Geekie said. “They saw what they saw.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2023.