TSN reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on Team Canada, which held a media availability on Friday in Vancouver.
Why did Tim Hunter bench Rimouski Oceanic left winger Alexis Lafrenière during Thursday's World Juniors game?
"We showed him some video from the Denmark game and he was out there skating around like it was a free skate, lots of circles in his game and we weren’t happy with that," Team Canada's head coach revealed. "And we talked to him about it and we showed him the video and explained it to him. I told him, 'At the start of the game, you’re going to show me whether you understood this or not and if you don't we’re going to limit your ice time.' "
Drummondville Voltigeurs forward Joe Veleno also had his playing time scaled back as Hunter shortened his bench to preserve a third-period lead against Switzerland.
"Those guys didn’t have a great game," Hunter said. "We have to win games so it’s not about evening the ice time out. We’re going to be a lot better against the Czechs than we were last night (Thursday). We have lots of things to clean up, but I’m confident in our group that we’ll get better as we move along here."
Hunter promoted Boston University's Shane Bowers to the left side of Spokane's Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Owen Sound's Nick Suzuki using that trio in a matchup role against the Swiss. Hamilton's Mackenzie Entwistle was elevated from the 13th-forward spot and is likely to remain the centre on the fourth line with Lafrenière and Veleno platooning on his left side.
"We'll meet with all the groups and talk to them about the way we want each line to find their way through a game and get a little more clarity for them," Hunter said. "We haven’t done that yet. We’ve just been waiting for things to find their way, but I think things are getting clearer now."
The other two lines – Portland's Cody Glass between Drummondville's Maxime Comtois and Mississauga's Owen Tippett and Sault Ste. Marie's Barrett Hayton between fellow Greyhound Morgan Frost and Prince Albert's Brett Leason – will remain unchanged.
"They’ve had lots of scoring chances," Hunter said. "They need to clean up being a little bit East-West in the offensive zone and being closer together, but the chemistry on those lines is important. You leave those guys together. They are the top-six guys in my mind."
Hunter isn't planning to overhaul his power play units after Team Canada failed to convert on five chances against the Swiss on Thursday night. Four of those opportunities came in the third period with the game hanging in the balance.
"We would've liked to close the game out with a power-play goal," the coach admitted, "but these guys are still finding their way of playing together and building that chemistry that a power play needs to click and our power play will get better when it's needed."
Is he looking for a more shoot-first mentality?
"There’s five guys on the power play so we don’t need guys being selfish," Hunter said. "We'll give them some new wrinkles. They're not moving the puck fast enough. They're looking at seams and when you're looking at a seam it's too late. You got to make the pass as soon as it's on your tape, know the seam is there and make the pass and we're just waiting a little too long."
With so much skill on the groups, the frustration level is creeping up a bit.
"A little bit, yeah," admitted London Knights defenceman Evan Bouchard, who quarterbacks the top unit. "It’s a little frustrating not seeing the puck go in. But it would be even more frustrating if we weren’t getting our chances ... We just got to keep shooting."
The penalty kill, which gave up two goals on similar behind-the-net plays against the Swiss, seems to be more of a concern.
"That play, we watched it and we knew about it and our guys were half asleep on it and that’s why they scored," Hunter said. "It needs work as well. It’s a tournament so we don’t need our penalty kill to be great right now."
But Hunter's patience seems to be wearing thin. Even before the game it was on his mind as he invited all the players to the penalty-kill meeting – not just those who work on it in practice –so that everyone knew the game plan. That gave the coach more personnel options and he took advantage by using Tippett and Comtois in a shorthanded situation in the late stages.
"Our two best players so put them out in that situation," Hunter explained. "They were urgent, they were desperate and they got the job done."
Leason, who kills penalties in Prince Albert, also got some time shorthanded.
"It's all about being aggressive," said University of Denver defenceman Ian Mitchell. "It's tough for any power play to play against pressure and move pucks quickly so I think that the more that we work together we'll start to work as a tandem and work as one. That's something the coaching staff has been harping on us about."
Team Canada's defensive alignment will stay together after a strong effort against the Swiss. Ty Smith, who logs big minutes in Spokane of the WHL, had been on the hot seat after averaging one minute per shift in the opening game against Denmark.
"We weren’t happy with that and he was the best last night at 37 seconds (per) shift," Hunter said. "He played hard and hustled on, hustled off so he got that message and that’s all you expect."
Smith, a New Jersey Devils prospect, and others who extended shifts during the blowout win against the Danes were put on notice before stepping on the ice against the Swiss.
"We posted the shift lengths before the game and in the morning we talked to them about that and all the guys who were over 45 got to see it," Hunter noted.
"Our shift lengths were excellent last night," Hunter said. "The analytics show that you’re at your best up to 37 seconds and then after that, if you’re going hard and maximizing your effort, you start to drop off in intensity."
Bouchard revealed that a phone call from Connor McDavid, who won a World Junior gold medal in 2015, boosted the team ahead of the tournament.
"It’s pretty cool to hear his side of things, how it was and what they did to come together as a team," Bouchard said.
What stood out the most from McDavid's message?
"Don’t pay attention to all the media stuff going on around you," Bouchard said, "especially with this being in Canada there will be a lot of hype around all the stuff."
Bouchard said McDavid's advice is one of the reasons why the players decided, as a group, to stay off social media during the tournament. And the Oilers captain hasn't been the only high profile guest speaker so far.
"We had Sidney Crosby send the players a message," said Hunter. "We also had Manny Malhotra talk to the team. Hockey Canada uses alumni to their advantage, they’ve got some great alumni, a local guy like Manny and then some phone interviews and phone conversations with Sidney and Connor McDavid. It’s a powerful weapon, a powerful tool for us and these guys are excited when they hear from those guys."
Projected lineup for Saturday's game: