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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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TSN reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on Team Canada. The Canadians practiced at Ostravar Arena on Wednesday ahead of Thursday's quarterfinal against Slovakia.

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What was Barrett Hayton thinking during a marathon goal review on Tuesday night?

"I just felt bad for Cuzy,” the Team Canada captain said. "He made an unbelievable play there. I was kind of hitting myself."

Cuzy is Dylan Cozens, who set up Hayton with a nice cross-crease pass for what was eventually deemed a good power-play goal in Canada’s 7-2 blowout of the Czech Republic.

"Lucky it went in, because I didn't get the greatest view," Hayton said. "Definitely great for Cuzy."

Cozens is rising in confidence at this year’s World Juniors. After picking up two assists in the first three games, the Lethbridge Hurricane racked up four points on New Year's Eve, including his first goal. Cozens didn't score in Canada's two pre-tournament matches so his drought had reached five games.

"It did take a while for me to get my first one and it's nice to get it," he said. "I was focused about not stressing about it, we were winning games, playing good as a team and it finally came and it’s exciting."

Cozens, a natural centre playing the wing with Canada, is now tied with Hayton for the team scoring lead with six points. The Whitehorse native is the first player from the Yukon to make it to the World Juniors. After each game Cozens will meet up with parents Michael and Susan, who relay messages of support from back home.

"They always tell me how many texts they're getting, you know, how much support I get from the Yukon. It's unbelievable. Everyone's watching there, everyone's sending their good wishes so it's great to see that."

After Cozens was named Canada's player of the game on Tuesday even the premier, Sandy Silver, tweeted his support.

"I have not seen that," Cozens said with a big smile, "but that’s pretty cool."

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Cozens will get another cool experience when Canada opens the knockout stage against a Slovakia team featuring his linemate in Lethbridge, Oliver Okuliar. The pair exchanged messages on Instagram once the match-up was set.

"He's a funny guy," said Cozens. "I got to know him quite well this season. He's a shooter so we can't let him shoot. He's got a good shot."

"He's perfect," said Okuliar of Cozens. "On the ice, off the ice, I like him so much. He's a really good person. He's a funny guy and we do a lot of stupid things (laughs). Like normal stupid things, like young guys."

That chemistry has helped Okuliar (23) and Cozens (20) rank in the top 10 in WHL goals this season.

"His skill when we play together, it's unbelievable," said Okuliar. "He's really good on the puck and he skates well."

That skating ability when coupled with a high hockey IQ has helped Cozens earn the trust of his teammates at both ends of the ice.

"He's starting to use his speed," observed Canadian defenceman Kevin Bahl, "but it's not just his speed offensively, it's his speed defensively as well. He's on the back check, he's tracking hard, he's cutting people's hands, you know, not letting people beat him to the net in the D-zone. Stuff like that. That's a big one for me, especially in a tournament where there’s so many offensive threats, the biggest thing is for guys to buy into defence and you can see he's been doing that."

Cozens is hoping his familiarity with Okuliar will help him get under the skin of his friend in the quarterfinals.

"I believe I'll be able to, maybe, we'll see," he said with a sly grin. "You'll see on the ice. See if we can get him to take some penalties."

Okuliar vows to be on his best behaviour. He has three points so far, but also 16 penalty minutes.

"It's not really how I want," the 19-year-old said of his play, "but every game is better and better and hopefully my best game will be against Canada."

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Only the Czechs (29) have taken more minor penalties than the Slovaks. Canada made the host nation pay dearly for a lack of discipline on New Year's Eve with five power-play goals.

"We have to be disciplined, because Canada is best team five-on-five and five-on-four, if they have a chance, it's 90 per cent in our net," Okuliar said.

Canada leads the World Juniors with a power play humming along at a 45 per cent clip.

Assistant coach Mitch Love has preached simplicity on the man advantage since Day 1 of camp and is seeing the team reap the benefit of that approach now.

"We got shots from the flanks, we converged, we were competitive, we won face-offs, which always starts your power play in the right direction, and it seems to be a confidence thing," Love said. "When one goes in, they start to go in for you and guys gain confidence and those are the elite of the elite out there on the ice and when they get confident they're tough to stop."

It was on the power play that Cozens scored his goal, tipping in a point shot by fellow Hurricane Calen Addison. This is the first time the Sabres' first-round pick, seventh overall last June, has played consistently in the net-front role.

"It's something new for me, but that's what Hockey Canada's all about, you know, learning new roles, learning new spots so I think I've adapted well," Cozens said.

"He's really intelligent in terms of getting to the net front and taking away the goalie's eyes," said Love, "but also being an option popping out when guys on the flanks need him. He's been real strong there and we've kind of had a carousel of guys going in and out of our units because of the injuries and the suspensions and what-not. So, the guys have done a really good job stepping up in those spots."

Alexis Lafreniere, who had two power-play assists in the opener against the United States, will return to the line-up in the quarterfinals making Canada even more deadly on the man advantage. TSN senior hockey reporter Frank Seravalli has more on Lafreniere's return here.

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Canada received a five minute power play in the game against the Czechs after Otakar Sik dropped Bowen Byram with a low-blow spear.

"It's not something you like to see happen," the Vancouver Giants defenceman said, "but I don't really blame the guy. I mean, it's a hockey play, things happen. He probably regrets it ... it happens in hockey, tempers boil over."

"The IIHF will probably look at that," added centre Joe Veleno.

Veleno was banned one game in the preliminary round for head-butting Russian player Daniil Misyul.

"I was disappointed with the suspension," Veleno said. "There were far more other plays throughout the tournament way worse than mine."

Veleno specifically cited a play by Russia's Yegor Sokolov on Ty Smith in the third period of Saturday's lopsided loss.

"That cross-check on Smitty when it was late in the game, an intent to strike," Veleno said. "I thought there were way more plays that were suspension-worthy."

This is the first time Veleno has been suspended since 2015 when he was banned for boarding in the QMJHL.

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It was around the time of the Canada-Russia OHL Series games in November that Flint centre Ty Dellandrea was approached by CCM pro athlete representative Tim Schultz with an idea, a wrinkle for the World Juniors when it comes to his skates.

"He showed me a picture and said, 'Would you want to wear these if you make the team?' And I said, 'Yeah.' They looked awesome so I think they’re pretty cool."

The skates feature a red Maple Leaf on one side with red trim on the other. Dellandrea isn't the only Canadian player wearing them. Addison, Byram and Raphael Lavoie are also making a fashion statement in Ostrava.

"They're not for everybody," Dellandrea acknowledged. "Some people are just really calm or standard about their equipment, but I don't mind wearing them. It will be cool to just keep them. I don't think I'll wear them again after this, maybe hang them up somewhere."

Dellandrea, 19, is already building a collection of mementos from his career.

"For a while there, I was just keeping plane tickets of everywhere I've flown with Hockey Canada and stuff like that," he said. "I'll keep these skates."

And, yes, Dellandrea did keep the plane ticket to Vienna, which is where Team Canada landed for a pre-tournament camp.

The journey continues on Thursday.

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Lines at the New Year’s Day practice:

McMichael / Lafreniere - Hayton - Foote
Foudy - Veleno - Cozens
Lavoie - Dellandrea - Dudas
Byfield - Thomas - Mercer

Byram - Bernard-Docker
McIssac - Smith
Bahl - Drysdale

Hofer
Daws
Rodrigue

Absent: Addison (sick)