Hofer after shutting out Finland: 'I love the pressure'
Team Canada held a limited media availability at Ostravar Arena on Sunday. Team Russia held a full morning skate. Mark Masters has more.
Team Canada captain Barrett Hayton is officially listed as a game-time decision for the gold-medal game.
"He's working with our medical staff in there right now and doing his treatment and trying to get himself ready," said assistant coach Mitch Love. "We got a lot of hours here before puck drop so we'll see where he's at."
The Arizona Coyotes centre, who is tied for the tournament scoring lead with 11 points, crashed into the boards in the third period of Saturday night's semifinal win over Finland. Hayton could be heard yelling in pain before leaving the ice favouring his left arm.
"He's been getting treatment," said teammate Joe Veleno. "We saw him this morning, he's got nothing on his shoulder really so, you know, he seems fine right now."
That may be wishful thinking. TSN's Frank Seravalli reported the initial outlook for Hayton wasn't positive and while the 19-year-old hasn't been officially ruled out, he's a long-shot to play.
Dealing with the absence of a star player is nothing new for this Canadian team. They won twice without Alexis Lafreniere and Veleno missed one of those games due to suspension. Nolan Foote was ejected less than one minute into the quarterfinal win over Slovakia and then in the semifinal game top-pair defenceman Bowen Byram was a late scratch due to illness.
"It's a resilient group," said Love. "We've dealt with a lot of adversity in this event so far and here we are again today with a chance to play the Russians for a gold medal."
"You know what, sometimes it’s tricky," said Russian assistant coach Igor Larionov, "when you got the best players out, sometimes the guys who play do some extra effort. We have to be prepared. We got some people also who are injured and playing through the pain."
Byram is likely to play tonight.
"He's doing better," said Love. "He was at breakfast this morning, which is a good sign. He'll be a game-time decision as well."
Byram isn't the only Canadian player who's been dealing with a nasty flu bug. Calen Addison missed practice on Wednesday and others have been impacted as well.
"It was going around a little bit, but guys seem to be all good this morning," said Veleno. "We saw everyone this morning at breakfast so it’s a good sign. It’s the gold-medal game so whether you're sick or not I think all the guys will be ready to go."
"There's been a little bit of an illness," said defenceman Ty Smith, "but that’s kind of caused guys to step up like (Jamie Drysdale) did last night and that helps build a stronger team because guys get more touches and more confidence."
Love confirmed that Hayton and Byram are the only two question marks for Team Canada Sunday.
Canada's first real bout with adversity came when Russia handed them a 6-0 loss on Dec. 28, the most lopsided defeat in the country's history at the World Juniors.
"That was an eye-opener for us," said Love, "and we’ll try and use that tonight to will ourselves to the win."
Both teams are expecting a much tighter affair than the preliminary round.
"Well, it happened last year," said Larionov. "It happened last year, 2019. So, now, we're in the new year, 2020, we're starting to rewrite the books in January so it will be a new game. For us, no overconfidence, we know things happen like that, 6-0, but it's all behind us, in the distance."
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However, that painful loss remains a fresh memory for many Canadian players, who are determined not to repeat the sins of the past.
"Last game they wanted to get under our skin," said Veleno, "they were giving us some cross-checks, hitting us a little late and passing by our bench and giving us some smirks, but we can't let that get to us. It's aggravating when that happens, but we have to stay composed. No matter what, we have to believe in ourselves and trust our teammates and I think we'll be fine ... We have to be disciplined tonight and not get sucked up in their game plan."
If Hayton can't play, Veleno will be leaned on even more. After prematurely celebrating a couple close calls that didn't go in during the last two games, the Grand Rapids centre hopes he's saving his goals for the gold-medal game.
"That's what everyone’s telling me," he said with a chuckle. "I hope the hockey Gods will reward me. I mean, I don't know what else I can do. The guys have been chirping me a little bit and so have the coaches so I got to make sure I bury those."
Veleno scored against the Czechs on New Year's Eve, but that's his only goal in the tournament. He pinged one off the post against Finland last night.
Veleno, who didn't score in five games at last year's World Juniors, tossed and turned on Saturday night, but not because of his lack of finish against the Finns.
"It took me a while before heading to bed. I was just thinking about today's game," he said with a smile.
Veleno was imagining a different kind of celebration. Not a goal, but a championship.
"Throwing the gloves in the air, I guess, that’s probably the first thing I thought about," he said, "getting the Cup and getting to do a lap with that. At the same time, we all have a role to play. We can't all score big goals. We all have to contribute in our own ways."
Connor McMichael brings a swagger to Team Canada. He started the tournament on the fourth line, but still scored the team's first goal sparking a comeback against the United States on Boxing Day. And the London Knight enters the gold-medal game having scored in three straight.
On Saturday night, the Capitals first rounder channeled his inner Babe Ruth against the Finns.
"Right before we went out for our first shift he said, 'Just get me the puck in the high slot and I'm going to introduce myself to the back bar,' and that’s what he did," said linemate Ty Dellandrea. "So, he called it."
Apparently, McMichael has done this before.
"Usually when he says he's going to score he does it," Dellandrea said. "He's a goal scorer."
McMichael has 25 goals in 27 games in London this season. He now has four at the World Juniors, one off the Team Canada lead (Hayton).
"He's got a great shot," observed Dale Hunter, who also coaches McMichael in the OHL, "that’s his strength and when he shoots it it comes off his stick hard and different and goalies have a hard time picking it up."
McMichael's goal was the beginning of a Canadian deluge. Dellandrea could sense how locked in the group was in the dressing room.
"We were ready to go," the Flint centre said. "We were excited for this game. There was a calmness getting ready for the game. Usually, we're talking a bit, but it was silence, a calm before the storm."
McMichel has done his damage early in games with all his goals coming within the first 23:31 of play.
When the Canadian anthem plays after wins in Ostrava some red-clad fans have taken to shouting "True North" during that part of O Canada. It's a tradition at Jets games and one that Winnipeg native Joel Hofer is well aware of.
"I heard that, actually," he said with a wide grin after posting a semifinal shutout. "I heard that the first couple games so it's definitely cool that they're getting here. It's getting pretty cold here so maybe they brought over the cold."
Hofer may have ice in his veins. The Portland goalie has appeared unflappable backstopping Canada to four straight wins. Hofer admitted to being nervous in his first start against the Germans. Have those nerves dissipated?
"No, they're still there," he said. "I mean, they're obviously going to be there. How can you not have nerves, I mean, it's the World Championship. Everyone has nerves, you just have to accept them and it's just a feeling. It's good."
A fourth-round pick of the Blues in 2018, Hofer has gone from never being invited to a Hockey Canada camp to starting in the gold-medal game at the World Juniors.
"It's pretty crazy," he said. "I wasn't invited to the (summer World Junior) Showcase or anything and was off the radar for a bit. So, I kind of just went about my business, game by game, and it's been showing off."
Frank Seravalli has more on how Hofer is aiming to follow in the footsteps of Jordan Binnington, who he met at training camp, here.
After replacing Yaroslav Askarov in the semifinal win over Sweden, Amir Miftakhov is expected to start for Russia, Larionov said. Miftakhov shutout Canada in the preliminary round.