Team Canada's staff has been preparing its players for moments like this since the summer camp.
"If you expect to go to the World Juniors and not have adversity, you're in the wrong tournament," said head coach Andre Tourigny. "Tampa Bay just won the Stanley Cup without their captain [Steven Stamkos] so it happens. If you want to win you have to go through adversity.
Tourigny has served as an assistant coach at the World Juniors on four occasions, including last year in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
"If you look at last year, we had a suspension, we had injuries, we had sickness, we had controversy and that's the World Juniors," Tourigny said. "Since June we talked to our players about adversity and that adversity will happen and we have to be ready."
Adversity hit Team Canada in a big way this week as captain Kirby Dach, who spent last season with the Chicago Blackhawks, sustained a wrist fracture and will be unable to play in the tournament.
"He's a guy who brought that pro presence," said alternate captain Dylan Cozens. "We'll miss him on the ice. He was the best player in the tournament so it's a huge hit for us."
In their first on-ice session since Dach left, Tourigny stopped the proceedings twice early on to demand more focus and urgency.
"Figure it out," he barked at the assembled players. "We need to be better than that. It's unacceptable."
With the lack of games heading into the event, these practice sessions have taken on even greater importance.
"He really just wanted us to go into practice like how we play a game," said centre Quinton Byfield, "and it doesn't matter if you're going against your teammates in a battle you have to compete as hard as the other team and opponents will in the upcoming games. He really got his message across and we picked up our pace."
The coaching staff debated what to do with the forward lines in the wake of the injury to Dach. They really liked the line of Connor McMichael between Cole Perfetti and Peyton Krebs, so that trio will remain in tact, but the other units will all have a different look on Boxing Day.
Cozens, who lined up between Jack Quinn and Dach on Wednesday, is shifting to right wing on a line with Dylan Holloway and Alex Newhook.
"Cozens played at the World Juniors for us last year on right wing and was really, really good," Tourigny explained. "Newhook, throughout his career, has been really good as a centre and he's way more comfy as a centre than a winger so we wanted to keep that."
Cozens produced nine points in seven games at the World Juniors last year while playing right wing.
"Both those guys are strong and fast," noted Cozens of Holloway and Newhook, "their speed will work real well with mine. I played wing before too so it's nothing I'm worried about."
Byfield moved into a top-nine role at practice after starting the pre-tournament game on what projected to be Canada's fourth line.
"He's so big and strong and he's such a presence on the ice," observed Cozens. "He gets the puck behind them and uses his speed and hunts the puck down. I mean, I wouldn't want to be a defender looking at him coming at me. He's such a big body, so strong. He's a great player. I think with Kirby gone he's going to step up for us."
Tourigny is hoping Byfield will build some momentum after a strong effort against Russia. He skated alongside Jakob Pelletier and Dawson Mercer at practice.
"Q brought a lot of physicality and managed the puck really well," Tourigny said, "and Pelletier was one of our best players so that will spread out the offence and spread out our lineup. We believe we have a good balance offensively and defensively on every line."
Byfield seemed to enjoy some instant chemistry with Pelletier.
"Just when he calls my name in the French accent," he said with a smile when asked what stood out about the Calgary Flames' first rounder. "He's a smart player and he does everything well. We can use our speed together. He was sniping quite a bit in practice as well so going to try and get him the puck and get a couple apples off that."
So, Pelletier was feeling it on Friday?
"Oh for sure," Byfield said. "I think he's always feeling it in practice. He just brings so much energy to the team."
Byfield started slow at Canada's selection camp and admitted it's taken a while to adjust to the 10 pounds of muscle he added in the off-season. The 6-foot-4, 221 pounder is now getting more comfortable throwing his weight around.
"I feel faster and heavier in the corners and I have to keep playing my game like that," he said. "I used my size and body and really tried to play the structure of the game the way he [Tourigny] wants us to play and perform. I really took that into account over the last couple weeks and just going over the systems as much as I can."
In the past, Byfield has lamented the fact he skates with a “hunchback" and the Newmarket, Ont. native has worked hard to refine his stride.
"It's improved a bit, but I think I'm always going to have that hunchback just being a tall guy and looking down at the puck," he said, "but I improved quite a bit during the pandemic with my stride and the power and muscle through the stride."
Another area where Byfield -- the second overall pick in October's draft -- is looking to get better is on face-offs.
"That's still a work in progress, but just getting a bit lower on the draws will help me out quite a bit," he said. "Going to L.A., I think Jarrett Stoll [who's part of the player development staff] can probably teach me about that. I watch a lot of film and watch the usual guys who are good on draws like [Ryan] O'Reilly, [Patrice] Bergeron, [Jonathan] Toews and seeing what they do off draws and the counter moves they do."
Devon Levi is a revelation to his new teammates.
"To be completely honest, I didn't really know who he was," Cozens said. "But he came here and stood out right away."
"I never really heard of him," said Byfield, "but he gets a shutout in his first game and will be a key piece of our team."
Levi had not met any of Team Canada's players before arriving at the selection camp in mid-November.
"None of them," he said with a smile. "I didn't know anyone coming in. I mean, I knew of everyone, for sure, but I had never met any of the guys and didn't know anyone personally."
The more Team Canada's players are getting to know Levi, the more they are liking him.
"He's so hard to score on in practice," Cozens gushed. "He's got great positioning. We definitely trust him as our starter. A lot of trust in him."
Levi posted a 36-save shutout in the final intra-squad scrimmage at camp and followed that up with a 23-save clean sheet against the Russians.
Levi's rise is remarkable on a number of levels. He had to wait around seven hours on the second day of October's National Hockey League draft before the Florida Panthers made him the 212th pick, which he described as "a huge relief."
A couple months earlier, Levi didn't receive an invite to Hockey Canada's virtual camp for World Junior hopefuls.
"When we did the first wave of scouting for the camp we talked about Devon, but the fact he did not play college or major junior was a factor and we thought we would have time to follow the start of his season and we would see from there if we wanted to invite him to the [main] camp," Tourigny explained.
The pandemic delayed the start of the college season and Levi, a freshman at Northeastern University, hasn't played yet for the Huskies. But the lack of games over the last nine months also allowed Canada's staff to do more video work.
"We started to dig in a little bit more in depth and talk to a lot of people, do more video and his performance in the Junior A Challenge last year was really the kicker and from there we decided we wanted to give him a shot," Tourigny said. "As soon as he arrived at the camp, [goalie coach Jason LaBarbera] really loved him and his competitiveness and his quickness and his legs were really fast so that is what made the difference."
Levi was the MVP at the World Junior A Challenge last year in Dawson Creek, B.C. where he backstopped underdog Canada East to a silver medal. He doesn't have any international experience beyond that. His experience is so limited, in fact, that he's not even familiar with playing games with commercial breaks.
"I've never had a commercial break before so just trying to build a new routine," he said with a grin.
Levi skated to the slot between face-off circles during the commercials on Wednesday night.
"I felt comfortable where I was so I feel like I'll stay there," he said. "Just clearing my mind. Just stretching. Just taking it easy. Just focusing."
So much of this is new for Levi, but his old teammates aren't surprised. Jon Goyens, who coached Levi when he was with the AAA midget Lac St-Louis Lions, put together a video featuring former teammates sending well wishes to their former goalie.
"That was unbelievable," said Levi, who watched the video after Wednesday's win. "It means a lot to know they're behind me."
The referees at the World Juniors have been asked to turn their microphones on for puck drop each game, which has led the group to brainstorm fun things to say.
Olivier Gouin told the players, "Alright, let's see if I can still do this boys," before dropping the puck at the pre-tournament game between Canada and Russia.
So, can he still do it?
"I'm pretty happy with my period," he said. "It's never going to be perfect. It's too fast and the players are too big, but overall I thought we were all solid. It's good for confidence."
With only four pre-tournament games, the officials had to rotate out between periods so everyone could get some reps. There are 14 referees and 12 linesmen in the bubble, which is up from the 12 and 10 usually invited.
And just like the players, many of them arrived feeling a bit rusty.
"I was lucky, because I had the chance to go in the QMJHL bubble," Gouin said. "Some of the OHL and WHL guys haven't worked at all except for here."
Gouin pointed out that the officials are only guaranteed to work one tournament game and everything else will be judged on merit.
The officials have held on-ice workouts since getting out of their initial quarantine. It's mostly skating work, but they do play some shinny. Gouin says former Belleville Bulls winger Carter Sandlak is among the stand outs.
"It was exciting to be back on the ice, finally," said Gouin, who earned the USA-Russia assignment on Christmas Day. "Most of us haven't skated [regularly] since March. It's a big tournament to get going."
Gouin started officiating at age 15 when he was looking for a part-time job. Since then he has risen up the ranks of Hockey Canada's officiating program. His highlights include a Memorial Cup final in 2016 and a senior men’s IIHF World Championship final in 2018.
Now, he's getting a shot at the World Juniors.
"It means a lot," the Laval, Que. native said. "I've never worked it. It's the first time. It's probably the tournament Canadians watch the most. It's a special tournament for the players and the referees also."
All the officials are Canadian this year, which means Gouin may be overseeing more games featuring his country.
"It doesn't change anything," he said. "Yes, I'm Canadian, but my job and integrity come first. It's a big tournament for us too, for our careers."
The referees held a group dinner on Thursday night and shared ideas about witty one liners they could use before puck drop. The consensus was something holiday-related would be appropriate.
"A great day for hockey," Gouin told Marat Khusnutdinov and Alex Turcotte at the opening face-off on Friday night. "Merry Christmas, boys. Have a good one."
Lines at Canada's practice on Friday:
Perfetti - McMichael - Krebs
Holloway - Newhook - Cozens
Pelletier - Byfield - Mercer
Zary - Suzuki - Tomasino
Byram - Drysdale
Harley - Schneider
Guhle - Barron
Korczak (R) - Spence
Power play units at Canada's practice on Friday:
Perfetti - Krebs - McMichael
Tomasino / Newhook - Quinn - Suzuki