TSN Hockey Reporter Mark Masters reports on the World Junior Hockey Championship. Team Canada practised inside the Edmonton bubble on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s game against Switzerland.
After sitting out Sunday's game with an upper-body injury, University of Wisconsin forward Dylan Holloway returned to the ice for Team Canada's practice.
"It was a little sore, but definitely something I can push through," Holloway said. "If it was a medal game or something towards the end of the tournament I'd definitely be playing [against Slovakia], but it was better to take the night to make sure it doesn't get too bad. It felt good today, a little sore, but I'll be ready to go tomorrow."
Holloway was a full participant in practice.
"Talked to the doc and asked if he wanted Dylan to have a different coloured jersey and the answer was 'No,' " noted head coach Andre Tourigny.
In the hours leading up to puck drop on Sunday, Holloway was preparing to suit up.
"To be completely honest, I thought I was playing," the Oilers’ first rounder said. "I got to the rink and was expecting to go and the doctor said it was in my best interests to not play and I trust the decision."
Holloway sustained the injury in the first period of Canada's game against Germany on Saturday when Braden Schneider levelled Jan-Luca Schumacher with a high hit. A reeling Schumacher bumped into Holloway.
"I was just coming back through the middle there and Schneider laid the body and it wasn't much but for some reason it tweaked my upper body," Holloway said. "I was able to play the rest of the game, but after the game it was super painful."
Holloway, who scored in both his NCAA games this season, is an important piece of Canada's attack.
"His pursuit of the puck is relentless, to say the least," observed Tourigny. "When you watch the game you see Dylan everywhere. He's on the forecheck. He's on the back track. He's in every battle. He's supporting his teammates. He is relentless. He's everywhere and creates a ton of room for his teammates."
On Monday, Holloway was moved onto Canada's top line alongside Connor McMichael and Dylan Cozens.
"Mikes is a good finisher, reads the play well, and with Cuzzy and Hollo they have a lot of speed and they retrieve pucks," Tourigny explained. "And Cuzzy is a good playmaker so I think that could be a good combo and they're good on both sides of the puck so that line can play against elite players."
McMichael and Cozens played together in three of the four intra-squad scrimmages during selection camp and Cozens played with Holloway and Alex Newhook on Boxing Day.
"I love playing with Mikes," Cozens said. "I think we gelled real well. With Holloway, I think we had some really good chemistry in the game against Germany. He's such a hard worker. He gets the pucks and makes real good plays."
Newhook moves into the slot McMicahel had previously occupied between Cole Perfetti and Peyton Krebs.
"Newy and Krebsie will bring a lot of speed around Perf and Perf is a good playmaker so the pace of those two guys can open some ice for Perf," Tourigny said.
The coach likes the way his team has played defensively, but is still looking for some chemistry to develop up front. Monday's practice focused on execution, transition and puck movement.
"We want to be really fast in our neutral-zone transition and in O-zone we need to have a quick-strike mentality," Tourigny said. "We're looking for the perfect play and we have to simplify. It's more about playing fast, playing quick and having a quick-strike mentality instead of slowing down and looking for a second or third option. We need to play with more speed offensively and it’s not just skating but thinking and attacking with a lot of quickness."
Canada took its team picture before practice on Monday and Hockey Canada manager of communications Spencer Sharkey was front and centre in full equipment and wearing the sweater of injured captain Kirby Dach. Through the power of photoshop Dach will be added to the image later, but the fact remains the Chicago Blackhawks centre is no longer in the Edmonton bubble so others must fill the void.
On Sunday it was Cozens, the workhorse from Whitehorse, who stepped up in a big way. With a stingy Slovakia team hanging close with Canada, it was Cozens who settled things down with his words and actions.
"He was composed," observed Tourigny. "He was calm. He was in control. He was assertive. So, all of that radiated on his teammates. The way he was talking to his teammates, you could see the composure and there was no panic."
Alternate captains Bowen Byram and Cozens are taking turns wearing the 'C' during the tournament in order to comply with IIHF rules that say someone must be designated in that role each game. Cozens, known for his blazing speed, didn't let the weight of the letter slow him down one bit.
"It's really easy to get away from the game and get in your own head when you're in a game like that," said defenceman Jamie Drysdale. "Cuz is showing leadership on the bench and making sure we all stay cool and we're doing the right things and when he follows through and makes a nice play in the defensive zone and turns it into the second goal, it's really nice to see that out of your leaders. He's a really special player and person on our team."
More poise and calmness will be required on Tuesday against the Swiss.
"They will play a similar type of game as the Slovaks," said Tourigny. "They will collapse the middle. They will defend with a lot of pride. They will give it all ... tighten up the middle and block shots and will be five in the slot and we need to learn to play against that style."
Cozens is one of six returning players on Team Canada and learned a lot from the adversity endured last year en route to a gold medal in Ostrava, Czech Republic. A year ago, Canada was thrashed 6-0 by Russia in their second game of the preliminary round, the most lopsided loss in the country's history at the event, and captain Barrett Hayton was embroiled in controversy after failing to remove his helmet during the Russian anthem.
Late in the semifinal win over Finland, Hayton sustained a shoulder injury.
"Hayton gets his shoulder separated and he's dealing with lots of stuff in the media already, lots of hate coming at him and all that, but he just stayed calm, stayed positive," Cozens recalled. "He's hurt and we didn't think he'd come back and play, but he grinded it out for us and that was the biggest thing I took from that."
The last two players on the ice at every Team USA practice are forwards and close friends Cole Caufield and Trevor Zegras.
"That's just kind of been a thing since our 17-year-old year together," Zegras explained. "We've just always kind of ended up sticking around on the ice together shooting pucks or flipping it to each other or just stupid stuff. We always love to be out there when practice is over and trying new things and being creative."
At the end of a recent workout the pair flipped pucks high in the air before trying to deflect them into a bucket.
In warmups they also have their own special routine as they squirt water down their uniforms.
"Just a fun way to get going," Caufield said. "We usually get the trainers involved too, but that didn't happen last game so we'll get back to that."
Zegras adds, "One of the first games we were doing it by ourselves and we said, 'You know what, might as well help each other out here."
The pair have similar personalities and hit it off right away at the USA Hockey National Development Team Program.
"We're just two loose guys," said Caufield, "but also two competitors so that's something we clicked on early on."
In a joint interview with TSN on Monday, the pair were asked to share something about the other guy that isn't obvious.
"He's got these crazy Uggs," said Caufield with a laugh.
"They're Birkenstock slippers," Zegras interjects. "They're pretty fuzzy. They're nice. A Christmas present from my mom. He's got a cute dog named Olive and she's awesome."
"Yeah, shout out to Olive," Caufield says.
The pair are all smiles off the ice and all business once the puck drops. Zegras, an Anaheim Ducks’ first rounder, leads Team USA with five points in two games so far. Caufield has one assist, but is expected to be a top producer after racking up 12 points in 10 games at Wisconsin to start the season.
"He's a lot stronger," Zegras pointed out. "The time off helped him a lot. He's definitely quicker and hard on pucks. I mean, I think he might've had 20 shots yesterday which may be a record of some sort. His game away from the puck is better than anything I've ever seen. He's always finding those pockets and always getting open so it's a real treat playing with him."
Caufield, for the record, had six shots in a win over Austria on Saturday and is up to a team-high 11 at the tournament. He also scored a couple goals in a pre-tournament game against Finland.
Zegras gained 15 pounds during the pandemic pause and Caufield is noticing the added strength on the ice.
"You can tell, he's good in the corners and being heavy over pucks," the Montreal Canadiens’ first rounder noted. "He's really not getting pushed off anything now and his confidence is pretty high."
Zegras and Caufield are two of the eight returning players on Team USA, who are looking for redemption after a quarterfinal loss last year in Ostrava. It wasn't the only bitter defeat they've shared.
"U18s was tough for a lot of us," said Zegras. "Pretty much the core group from that team is here and all the pressure that was on us to win that tournament, I still think that's what we're all thinking about and it'd be awesome to win here."
Team USA lost in a shootout against Russia in the semifinals at the 2019 under-18 World Championship and finished third despite getting a MVP performance from Caufield.
Now, they get one last chance to win the ultimate prize in junior hockey.
"It would mean everything," said Caufield. "It's something our group has wanted for a long time and this is another opportunity that we don't want to pass up."
Jake Sanderson is playing in his first World Juniors, but is feeling very much at home in Edmonton where his dad, Geoff Sanderson, wrapped up his NHL career with the Oilers in 2007-08.
"I got a lot of family here," said Sanderson. "When I was younger we used to come up here a lot for family reunions and at Christmas time we'd come up here with the family."
Ottawa's fifth overall pick in October's draft agreed to play a little word-association game with TSN on Monday.
What's the first thing that pops in his head when he thinks of ...
Caufied's shot? "In the net.”
University of North Dakota? "Hockey."
Ottawa Senators? "I guess, me."
Thomas Chabot? "Skilled."
Geoff Sanderson? "Fast."
World Juniors? "Lifetime experience."
2021 USA World Junior team? "Gold."
Your hometown of Whitefish, Montana? "The lake."
Jake Sanderson? "Hockey."
Third overall pick Tim Stuetzle signed an entry-level contract with the Senators on Sunday.
"An unbelievable feeling," he said. "I can't wait to join the team and meet all the guys. They are very young. We have a very young team. Right now, I think I can learn a lot from everybody ... it's going to be an unbelievable experience and I hope I can make the team as fast as possible."
Stuetzle noted that Brady Tkachuk and Chabot already reached out via text to congratulate him.
The contract helped Team Germany's captain turn the page on Saturday's 16-2 beatdown at the hands of Team Canada. The Germans were playing on consecutive days and dressed just 14 skaters due to positive COVID tests, but Stuetzle doesn’t blame Canada for running up the score.
"You can't be frustrated with Canada," Stuetzle said. "They played a very good game. They want to score as much as they can and I would do the same, totally, so I can't say anything bad about it. I was not happy with the performance. You can lose to Canada, but you can't lose that way. I hate to lose and especially to give up so many goals, it's unacceptable, in my opinion."
Stuetzle has high expectations for his team in the rest of the preliminary round.
"Everyone's positive," he insisted. "I really think we can win. There's no other goal but to win those two games."
Lines at Monday's Team Canada practice:
Holloway - McMichael - Cozens
Perfetti - Newhook - Krebs
Quinn - Byfield - Pelletier
Mercer - Suzuki - Tomasino
Byram - Drysdale
Harley - Schneider
Guhle - Barron
Korczak (R) - Spence
Levi starts on Tuesday