CANADA COMES BACK TO BEAT RUSSIA, WIN WJC GOLD
JASON LA ROSE
OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Akil Thomas (Toronto, Ont./Niagara, OHL) etched his place in Canadian hockey history, scoring the game-winning goal with 3:58 left to give Canada’s National Junior Team a come-from-behind 4-3 win over Russia and the gold medal Sunday at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
It is the 18th gold for Canada, the third in the last six years and the first on European ice since 2008.
After Canada had erased a two-goal deficit with goals from Connor McMichael (Ajax, Ont./London, OHL) and Barrett Hayton (Peterborough, Ont./Arizona, NHL) just 2:01 apart, Thomas chipped past a Russian defender, chased down the loose puck and beat goaltender Amir Miftakhov on the backhand to ignite the pro-Canadian crowd at Ostravar Arena.
The goal was the first of the tournament for Thomas, who had just four minutes of ice time in the first two periods.
McMichael finished with a goal and an assist, Calen Addison (Brandon, Man./Lethbridge, WHL) had three helpers and Alexis Lafrenière (Saint-Eustache, Que./Rimouski, QMJHL) added two assists for the Canadians.
Joel Hofer (Winnipeg, Man./Portland, WHL) made 35 saves to cap a spectacular tournament; he finished with tournament-leading marks in wins (five), goals-against average (1.60) and save percentage (.939), and was named Top Goaltender and to the Media All-Star Team.
He came up big in a scoreless first period, turning aside all 10 shots he faced – six of them on four Russian power plays – while the Canadians directed seven towards Miftakhov.
Russia finally broke through with the man advantage midway through the second period when Nikita Alexandrov tipped a Yegor Zamula shot through Hofer, but Canada tied it on a five-on-three less than two minutes later.
Joe Veleno (Kirkland, Que./Grand Rapids, AHL) dug out the rebound of a Lafrenière shot, and Dylan Cozens (Whitehorse, Y.T./Lethbridge, WHL) corralled the loose puck and got the Canadians even.
Grigori Denisenko restored the Russian lead before the end of the middle frame, jamming his own rebound underneath the pad of Hofer to make it a 2-1 game after 40 minutes.
It was a two-goal advantage when Maxim Sorkin went over the far-side shoulder of Hofer at 8:46 of the third period, but the Canadians were far from done.
McMichael cut the deficit back to one when an Addison shot bounced off his shin pad and eluded Miftakhov 34 seconds after the Sorkin goal, and Hayton – who was questionable for the game with an upper-body injury – rifled a power-play goal upstairs on the Russian netminder two minutes after that.
That set up the Thomas heroics, and a wild finish that included included a late Russian power play and Hofer making an attempt at scoring the insurance goal himself into an empty net.
Following the game, Lafrenière was named Most Valuable Player and Top Forward after posting 10 points (4-6—10) in five games. He and Hofer joined Hayton, who led Canada in scoring (6-6—12) on the Media All-Star Team.
The IIHF World Junior Championship returns to Canadian ice next year when Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., host the 2021 World Juniors. Fans have until 11:59 p.m. MT on Jan. 5 to sign up for the Priority Draw for their chance to purchase tickets in both cities. Visit HockeyCanada.ca/Tickets for more information.