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Undrafted, but undaunted: Allard, Rousseau come through for Canada

Owen Allard Canada Owen Allard - Matt Zambonin/IIHF

Team Canada opened the World Juniors with a 5-2 win over Finland at the Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden on Tuesday. 

Two players passed over in the National Hockey League draft made sure they didn't get overlooked on Tuesday. Soo Greyhounds forward Owen Allard scored a key goal while Halifax Mooseheads goalie Mathis Rousseau turned aside 24 of 26 shots in Canada's tournament-opening win against Finland.

"First game on the international stage," Rousseau said. "It's incredible seeing the amount of fans that came and cheering for us. It means a lot to me."

More than 3,000 Canadian fans have made the trip to Sweden for the event.

"It was a pretty surreal experience," Allard said. "Just getting out there, seeing the Canadian fans is just something special and something I never experienced before. Just through the roof excitement. It was really fun."

Rousseau's best moment came late in the first period. With the game off to a tense start and no goals on the board, defenceman Oliver Bonk blew a tire in the neutral zone and two Finns – Janne Naukkarinen and Lenni Hameenaho – broke in all alone. Naukkarinen passed to Hameenaho, but Rousseau got his 5-foot-11 frame over and gloved the shot.

"It felt great getting that save early for the guys," the 19-year-old from Boisbriand, Que. said. "I saw the play develop and I knew the option for the other guy was open so when he made [the pass] I was pretty confident getting there."

"That started it all," said Peterborough Petes centre Owen Beck. "He made that save, got a whistle, and then we went down and scored the very next shift. That was huge. A momentum turner."

Rousseau started all three pre-tournament games for Canada. After playing against Switzerland on Friday, he asked for the chance to play again on Saturday against the United States so he could build more momentum. 

"That's why I play hockey is to play," he said. "I don't mind the pressure. I don't mind being out there."

Rousseau is hoping to play again on Wednesday against Latvia. 

"It's a big tournament and I want to enjoy most of it and play the most games I can," he said. 

"We'll talk to him," said head coach Alan Letang. "I said we were going to kind of watch his workload, but I guarantee you he wants to play because he's a workhorse. We'll talk to him and see what he's thinking."

Sherbrooke's Sam St-Hilaire, another undrafted goalie who is making his international debut at this tournament, dressed as the back-up on Tuesday.   

Rousseau is looking to follow in the footsteps of Thomas Milic, who arrived at the World Juniors undrafted last year before backstopping Canada to a gold medal. Milic, who is 6-foot, used that performance as a springboard to get selected in the fifth round of the 2023 draft by the Winnipeg Jets.

"You get here, you know, some people have some doubts and you get the job done, just an incredible moment," Rousseau said of Tuesday's win. "It's unbelievable. You know, growing up you see the World Juniors is something big and now I'm here and it's going well."

ContentId(1.2053310): Rousseau stands tall to backstop Canada over Finland


Brandon Wheat Kings captain Nate Danielson opened the scoring with 3:36 left in the first when a Maveric Lamoureux shot went off his pants and in. 

Allard doubled the advantage midway through the middle stanza. The 19-year-old from Ottawa proceeded to jump into the glass as part of the celebration. 

"Some of the boys thought the glass was going down," Allard said with a grin. "I just had a lot of excitement. I kind of blacked out, to be honest with you."

You can understand the excitement. Allard wasn't invited to Hockey Canada's summer meetings for World Junior hopefuls. He was surprised to be invited to the selection camp earlier this month. It's been a meteoric rise for a guy, who was limited to 14 games last season due to injury. 

"It's definitely great," he said. "You get a chance to showcase yourself and show scouts what I have to offer. It's been good, but I'm just trying to focus on winning a gold medal with this team."

"He wins an opportunity to play here and he's going to enjoy every moment for sure," said Letang.

Teammates are surprised that the 6-foot-2, 200 pounder didn't get picked by an NHL team. 

"He skates like the wind and he can really rip it," said Danielson. "I'm sure he's going to get drafted this year. He's got a bright future."

"If someone had him in a camp and let him go they're probably upset right now for sure," Letang said with a laugh. 

Allard crushed Finnish defenceman Emil Pieniniemi with a big hit behind behind the net before popping out to score his goal. 

"Dog on a bone," said Beck of Allard's style. "We call him 'O-Dog' for a reason. He's a great player and so fun to play with. Our line is going to keep buzzing with him driving us."


Danielson picked up the assist on Allard's goal. He was named Canada's player of the game by the team's staff. 

"His patience and his smarts," Allard said when asked what stands out about the Detroit Red Wings prospect. "He makes great little plays and super patient with the puck." 

Allard, Beck and Danielson have been skating together since the selection camp in Oakville, Ont. They even played a game together against the USports All-Stars. 

"We established an identity very early," said Beck, a Montreal Canadiens prospect and Canada's lone returnee. "We've been on the same line since training camp and we haven't changed at all. It's given us time to build chemistry and just keep working hard and things are coming for us."

"We have a lot of speed, all three of us," said Danielson. "We play with pace and we're all super competitive and have that drive. We just want to make an impact and we did a good job of that tonight."

Letang shuffled the three other forward lines for the final pre-tournament game, but he didn't touch Allard, Beck and Danielson. 

"We're really relentless on pucks," Allard said. "We're playing physical. We're really reading each other well, like, just cycling the puck together. We're getting to the greasy spots in front of the net and that's a big reason for our success."


Letang pointed out that Allard, Beck and Danielson are all part of the penalty kill, which went five for six against the Finns. 

"Our PK was huge tonight," said Letang, who credited assistant coach Shaun Clouston. "Clouy did an amazing job getting those guys ready. We were good up ice pressuring them, took their drop [pass] away a little bit. We had speed coming back and the moments they did break us down either our goalie made the big save or we were willing to block that shot."

Finland did score one power-play goal, which allowed them to pull within a goal. Discipline will be stressed moving forward. 

"We have to adapt a little bit to the way the officials are going to call it," Letang said. "Anything in on the hands, we'll have to probably go more stick on puck and not extend or reach and grab a little bit. I think we can do a better job of that for sure."


The Finns seemed determined to get under the skin of 17-year-old Macklin Celebrini. 

"There were guys all over him all night," noted Beck. "Like, behind the play they were jumping and everything, but he didn't let it get to him. He stuck to it and played his game and that kid's talent just shone through and he got one for us."

Celebrini crashed the net to score what turned out to be the game-winning goal in the third period. He finished with four shots in 13 minutes and 39 seconds of play. 

"He was fine," Letang said. "They did go after him a little bit. They played real hard and physical on him. Still came back smiling. You know, he'd probably say he had a little bit more [to give] but I thought he was real poised with the puck, made some real nice plays, and his line contributed quite a bit there."

Celebrini was not available to the media after the game, because he was at doping control. 


It wasn't just Celebrini who handled the heat well on Boxing Day. 

"We were resilient all night," said Beck. "We stuck to our game plan, didn't waver, kept pucks moving quick, and crashed the net hard."

And Canada didn't crack when the Finns swung the momentum early in the middle frame. 

"I liked how we handled the adversity of that second period," Letang said. "I think there were moments in that period where they raised their game and we got back on our heels a little bit. We have to realize that and the next line or the next two lines that come out, we've got to get back to our game. I know it's a cliche but you put pucks deep. When we had pucks deep they had a tough time holding onto our cycle and we got lots of movement and we got lots of people to the net, so if we recognize that we can kind of turn that corner a little bit quicker as a group."


Canada's defence, which lost Tristan Luneau (illness) and Tanner Molendyk (fractured wrist) on the eve of the tournament, held up well. North Bay Battalion blueliner Ty Nelson was even with two shots on net while logging just over seven minutes in a game that started less than 24 hours after his arrival in Sweden. Jorian Donovan played just under 11 minutes and finished minus-one in his second game with Team Canada. 

Lamoureux logged a team high 24 minutes and 50 seconds and scored into an empty net to cap the game.

"He's that big presence," Letang said of the 6-foot-7 defenceman. "He's that calming presence. I thought Noah Warren was excellent as the game went on, you know, closing in the corner, strong around the net. As a D core, we handled their physicality. We handled their quickness fairly well. They're only going to jell a little bit better as we get going. Ty Nelson just flew in here so he's a little jet lagged and he's going to get better as the games go on. Jorian the same thing. It took us four, five days to get over the jet lag. He's still battling through and made a couple real nice play, used his feet. I liked how our D played."

And Canada managed to steer the game home in the third period even though the Finns were stubbornly sticking around. 

"There were some nerves for sure," said Letang. "How could there not be?"

The pandemic cost this age group some international opportunities. 

"These guys didn't experience the Hlinka," Letang highlighted. "They didn't experience the u17 with all the things that have gone on. So, it's really their first time wearing the jersey and we managed it well. It was pretty quiet before the game and we tried to keep it as loose as we could. I thought our third period was OK. We came out pretty good. There wasn't a whole lot of time and space from both teams and we were pushing the pace a little bit. When we got to that game I thought we started to really play well." 

ContentId(1.2053349): WJC: Canada vs. Finland Extended Highlights


Canada's goal song is 'Ordinary Day' by Great Big Sea. Hockey Canada staff unveiled the choice during a team meeting on Monday night. 

"At first the boys were a bit skeptical," Allard revealed. "They played it and the boys were kind of looking at each other but as we got out there, and while we were on the ice, it sounded real good. As we heard it with the fans and everything it was really good. I thought they made a great choice on it. We're hearing it lots now and hopefully we'll hear it lots throughout the tournament."

The song was released in October 1997 and some players admitted they weren't familiar with it. 

"Heard it last night for the first time," said Beck. "Hearing it in the building is so much better. It will be a good one for fans to jump along with."

"I like it," said Danielson. "I think it's catchy. Yeah, I liked it."   


Team Canada lines to start Tuesday's game: 
(Time on ice) 

Minten (16:43) - Geekie (16:54) - Dumais (12:30)
Cowan (15:39) - Poitras (15:27) - Savoie (17:42)
Wood (6:02) - Celebrini (13:19) - Yager (12:10)
Allard (11:25) - Beck (12:09) - Danielson (13:23)
Rehkopf (8:56)

Mateychuk (24:03) - Lamoureux (24:50)
Furlong (17:00) - Bonk (17:33)
Donovan (10:49) - Warren (15:43)
Nelson (7:07)

Rousseau (60:00)