Skip to main content


Revenge-minded Celebrini looks to lead Canada past Sweden

Macklin Celebrini Canada Macklin Celebrini - The Canadian Press

Canada took its team picture at the Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden on Thursday. 

Sweden blew out Canada twice – 8-0 in the group stage and 7-2 in the semifinal – at the under-18 World championship earlier this year. Nine Swedes from the tournament are now at the World Juniors, as are two Canadians, including centre Macklin Celebrini.

"They weren't very close games," Celebrini said. "Obviously [want] a little bit of redemption. We have a great team here so I'm excited for tomorrow."

Canada will face host Sweden on Friday in a game that will likely determine who tops Group A. 

The under-18 event conflicted with the Canadian Hockey League playoffs, which meant Canada didn't have its strongest lineup. Still, the losses have lingered in the mind of Celebrini.  

"My only time playing against them and they kind of wiped us, so definitely motivation," the Boston University freshman said. 

Celebrini led Canada with 15 points in seven games at the under-18 World Championship. He's once again leading Canada in scoring at the World Juniors with six points in two games. 

"He shows incredible poise and maturity for a 17-year-old," said head coach Alan Letang. "I don't envy the pressure he's under and I don't envy the expectations that are on him, but he has high expectations for himself and that's what makes him so special."

Celebrini isn't just a top player on Team Canada, he's also the projected first overall pick in the next National Hockey League draft. 

"There's pressure until you're on the ice and then it's just hockey," he said. "I just like to play my game and play with my teammates. They make it fun so you kind of forget about all that."  

Celebrini scored the game-winning goal in the third period of Canada's tournament-opening game against Finland. He followed that up with a five-point performance in a 10-0 rout of Latvia on Wednesday. 

"He's one of those guys, like, you can't really pick something out that's bad about him," said Team Canada winger Carson Rehkopf. "I think he does everything so well and that's the reason he does what he does. It makes it so easy to play with him. He can see the ice so well and works so hard."

"His habits are unbelievable," raved winger Matthew Wood, who played with Celebrini at the under-18 World Championship. "His skill's unbelievable. He's the real deal. And, he's a great guy off the ice too so that's always a huge bonus for a kid like that."


ContentId(1.2054194): Celebrini out for redemption


Celebrini logged 13 minutes and 19 seconds against Finland and then 13 minutes and 34 seconds against Latvia. That was the seventh highest total among the team's forwards in both games. Canada is aiming to wear down the opposition by showcasing its depth and rolling lines, but Letang plans to shorten his bench as the games get bigger and tighter.  

"Early on in the game, if you build that trust I'll find the extra minutes for you," Letang promised. "As we get down to the nitty gritty, the player that's going is the guy that I'm going to trust."

Celebrini has already proven he deserves that trust. 

"It's just his compete and his willingness to get pucks back," Letang noted. "You can't expect a perfect game from anybody out there. As a 17-year-old you still make those little 17-year-old bumbles or mistakes, but he's the first guy to stop on the puck, the first guy to come back with a heavy stick and try and get it back."

The building should be electric on Friday. More than 3,000 Canadian fans have flocked to Gothenburg and the hosts have played before a full house in their games so far. 

Celebrini can lean on a similar experience from earlier this season during NCAA play when he took the ice at Madison Square Garden. The Vancouver native calls that the most raucous atmosphere he's played in.

"This year we played at MSG, sold out, against Cornell which was pretty cool," he said. "It was a big game, loud, and in an historic building so that was the coolest environment."


Why is his line clicking right now? 

"We just read off each other well," Celebrini said. "I'm playing with two great players (pause) or three."

Wood and Rehkopf have been rotating in on the line with Celebrini and Brayden Yager. 

"We moved the puck well and we created turnovers," said Celebrini. "It was a big thing for all the chances."

Wood sprang Celebrini for a breakaway goal against the Latvians. 

"He was calling for it and he was open," said Wood, who is a sophomore at the University of Connecticut. "When he's open for a breakaway you got to try and give it to him even if you don't have too much room. I had to try."

Celebrini didn't look all that open. Latvian defenceman Peteris Bulans appeared to be on him. The pass needed to be perfect. 

"That landed right on my tape," Celebrini said. "I don't know how he got that to me." 

"Great pass by Woody on that breakaway, but an equally good pick-up in motion there," said Letang. "Just grabbed it and went in."

Wood, who stands 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, scored his own goal later and added another assist on the power play. 

"He's super stealthy," Celebrini said. "He can get to those areas and score and make plays." 

Rehkopf scored a pair of goals including a highlight-reel tally that Celebrini assisted on. 

"Nice little poke by Mack," Rehkopf said. "Just using my speed and strength and trying to burn that guy wide and got past him and had a good chance there." 

The Kitchener Rangers sniper took full advantage of his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame. 

"That was sick," said Yager. "Just a nice, big power move. He's probably done that quite a few times in the OHL. He's got like 40 goals almost so I'm not too surprised."

It's actually 31 goals in 31 games for Rehkopf this season. He's also racked up 24 assists. 

"He can bury, obviously," said Celebrini. "He can score goals, but I think he can make plays as well and that's super underrated about him. He's hard on pucks and he can make plays."

And yet, Rehkopf still started the tournament as Canada's 13th forward. 

"I thought the game against the Finns, he added an element of physicality," Letang said. "He was like, 'Hey, listen, I'll prove to you that I'll do what you want me to do,' and we needed that from him. He's a big body and he followed that up."

Wood started Wednesday's game as the 13th forward and also responded well.  

"Woody was excellent," Letang said. "He probably looks back and wanted more from his game [against Finland]. He was moving his feet. They're big guys, if they get inside they're tough to handle and when they get around the net, where we want to be, they are going to get those opportunities. Great response by both of them."


ContentId(1.2054228): Rehkopf and Wood make their case to play with Celebrini


With Canada leading 5-0 after 40 minutes, Letang challenged his team to stay focused and not let bad habits creep in. The coach added a little incentive. If Canada limited Latvia to fewer than three scoring chances in the third, he would treat the group to ice cream, specifically McFlurries from McDonald's, on the off day. 

"We were all super pumped," said Soo Greyhounds winger Owen Allard. "It gave us something to play for."

Canada added five goals in the third period and helped goalie Mathis Rousseau preserve the shutout. 

Upon reviewing the video, Letang counted just two Latvian chances. Defenceman Oliver Bonk made an ice-cream saving play late in the frame. 

"Off the rush, Bonker made a huge block and that was the kind of detail and kind of desperation we're going to need come tomorrow and come later on in this tournament," Letang said. "I'm happy to take them out."


ContentId(1.2054190): McFlurries on coach Letang after Canada holds up their end of the bet against Latvia


Usually team pictures are taken on Christmas Day at the World Juniors, but Canada had to delay it this year because call-up defenceman Ty Nelson didn't arrive in time. So, despite not having a practice on Thursday, the players suited up for a picture. 

"It's a surreal moment getting to look around the rink and know you're at the World Juniors," said Nelson. 

"A picture with all the boys," said Allard. "I'm sure we'll look back at it a couple years from now and remember all the great times at this tournament."

After the full team snapshot was complete, a series of smaller group pictures were taken featuring players from different leagues and minor hockey associations. That gave the guys a chance to have a little fun while awaiting their turn in front of the camera. Longtime pals Conor Geekie and Denton Mateychuk engaged in a fake fight as did Rousseau and fellow goalie Scott Ratzlaff. 

"I think I could beat him," Rousseau said with a grin. "It would be pretty tight."

Celebrini organized a game of ice football.

"Geeks was pretty good in the pocket there," Celebrini said. "He impressed me."

Overall, Canada seems like a loose group heading into their big test against the Swedes. 

"I feel like we're a team of brothers," Celebrini said. "It's awesome to have that chemistry."

It did take some time to develop, though. 

"Last year in Halifax we had a huge players' lounge where they hung out," said Letang, an assistant coach a year ago. "This year it's a little bit tighter in the hotel. It's been great, but they're in their rooms a little bit more. They've all mixed and mingled in between and for a group that hasn't really played a whole lot together they're starting to come together. If a little bit of ice cream helps, then a little bit of ice cream helps." 

The players were given some free time in the afternoon on Thursday. 

"I get to hang out with my mom and sister, which is nice," Nelson said. "We're going to maybe walk around the mall or do something fun. It's just nice to have some reset time, hang out with the family, because I didn't get to spend Christmas with them."

"Today is a great day where they get to go see their families for a little bit and actually be young 19-year-olds," Letang said. "Walk around the city and take a deep breath because it will get real tomorrow in the morning when we get down here and get prepping."


ContentId(1.2054216): Canada Ice Chips: Picture day fun ahead of Swedish showdown


Wednesday's win was relatively stress free, but there was one tense moment for Nelson, who was initially assessed a major penalty in the first period. The play was reviewed by the referees, who believed it to be a knee-on-knee hit. 

What was the North Bay Battalion blueliner thinking in the box? 

"Please, please don't be a major," he said with a smile. "I knew I initially hit him on the hip and didn't stick a hip out. I was shocked, originally, on the call, but they got to try and protect everybody. I was just hoping it's not a call and I can get back in the game and get playing again."

The review went on so long that the DJ at the arena played the song "What's Up?"  by 4 Non Blondes, includes the lyric "What's going on?" Fans started singing along while Nelson awaited his fate.

Eventually, the entire penalty was rescinded.  

"I saw the TSN post today about the 'What’s going on' [song] so we got a good kick out of that," Nelson said. "I know the boys got pretty fired up after it wasn't called a penalty. It was definitely a sigh of a relief and a little bit of a smile." 


ContentId(1.2054203): 'What's going on?' Nelson relives marathon major penalty review


A go-to move for Canada on the power play has been a slap pass from Celebrini on the half wall to Geekie in front of the net. The opposition can't seem to defend it. Why? 

"Don't want me to give away all my secrets, do you?" Celebrini said with a smile. "I feel like Geeks is a big boy [6-foot-4, 198 pounds] and he can get to those areas and he makes it pretty easy for me when he presents that target. It's worked so far and hopefully it keeps working."

"It's just such an advantage with how good he is at seeing that passing lane," Geekie said. "We do it almost every other time it seems. Me being a bigger body, it helps being able to box guys out, but I only do the easy part."

Canada would've scored on the play on Wednesday, but Geekie put the puck into the goalie rather than the wide open cage. 

"I'll let that one slide," Geekie said with a laugh. 

Letang points out that the penalty kill has to respect Celebrini's shot. 

"It's the deception," the coach said. "It's the fact he's a play ahead and good power-play guys are always that step ahead ... You got a real smart player in the middle in [Jordan] Dumais, who's picked apart penalty kills before too, so it's hard to take three or four options away."


ContentId(1.2054202): Celebrini on PP slap pass success: 'Don't want to give away all my secrets'


Shawn Allard, who worked as a consultant and skills coach with the Colorado Avalanche from 2018 to 2023, watched proudly from the stands as his son scored in both Canada's games this week. 

"It's so nice," the 48-year-old said. "It's part of the reason why I didn't re-sign with the Avs, I didn't want to miss these moments. We never expected him to be here. We're enjoying the experience and praying for him every night so he has success and contributes to his team."

"It's definitely special," said Owen. "When he was in Colorado he didn't really get the chance to come up and visit me in the Soo or visit any of my others siblings, so just to have him here and supporting me it's really fun. I'm really happy he's here." 

Siblings Ashley Allard (University of Connecticut) and Tristan Allard (Syracuse Crunch) also play hockey. 

Owen, who was passed over in the last two NHL drafts, has emerged as a key contributor on Canada's energy line with Owen Beck and Nate Danielson. 

"The big thing about Owen is he's still really raw," Shawn said. "You think about it, just over the course of three seasons, missing one for COVID, playing in the Ontario Hockey as a rookie at 17, getting hurt all last year, so really he's probably only played a year of major junior hockey. He's been able to stick with it and believed in himself and it's all come together for him."

Owen was limited to 14 games last season due to a shoulder injury. 

His father has passed on some important lessons from Colorado's pursuit of a Stanley Cup, which culminated with a championship in 2022. 

"It teaches you so much," Shawn said. "I learned more from those guys than they learned from me. To take that information and be able to transfer it down to our kids has been amazing."

The biggest lesson?  

"Living day-by-day," Shawn said. "Hitting base hits. Don't try and hit home runs. We had a few situations in our Cup run where we had to win Game 5s and we learned through that process that we can't want it too bad. You got to do the work and put the work in, but if you're looking forward to the next game, it's not going to work out for you. You have to stay in the moment, stay within it, and if you do that you'll have a lot of success."


ContentId(1.2054200): Canada's Allard benefits from dad's Avalanche anecdotes


Allard's goal on Wednesday was assisted by Wood. Did he get a scouting report from Ashley before the World Juniors? 

"My sister just told me she's watched a couple games and he's obviously their best player there," Allard said. "He's a really gifted player. He's got a great shot, a real goal scorer. She just told me he was a heck of a player and a good person too." 


Team Canada lineup in Wednesday's game: 

Minten - Geekie - Dumais 
Cowan - Poitras - Savoie 
Rehkopf - Celebrini - Yager 
Allard - Beck - Danielson 

Mateychuk - Lamoureux
Furlong - Warren
Donovan - Bonk 

Ratzlaff (not dressed)