MONTREAL — At some point, the hockey world knew that the world junior championship would become all about Connor McDavid.
The moment hit at 4:11 of the first period of Canada’s 4-0 win over Germany on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
McDavid had gone without a point in Friday’s opener, a laugher over Slovakia, and that got tongues wagging. What was wrong? Was his hand okay? Was he playing hurt after blocking a shot? Was there no chemistry with Curtis Lazar?
As if saying “Calm down everyone,” McDavid went out and scored the game’s first goal, off a scrum in front of German goalie Kevin Reich.
It was on the power play, with assists going to Josh Morrissey and Nic Petan. But the goal was all McDavid, with patience and quick stickhandling to the side of the German net before committing to the shot.
Then with a nice dipsy-doodle, he set up Lazar for Canada’s second goal, another power-play marker, at 12:42. Petan — maybe the least heralded player on that line — got his second assist of the game. McDavid and Petan each finished with three points.
And all was right with the world — well, almost.
After Canada led 2-0 — both power-play goals — while outshooting the Germans 7-0, the tables turned.
Canada started to make fancy no-look and cross-ice passes which led to turnovers. The Germans gained confidence, establishing a forecheck and forcing Canada to take penalties.
The Canadians appeared guilty of taking an opponent lightly, which they’d vowed not to do.
The Germans, who don’t have a single player drafted by an NHL team, gave a team filled with future stars a run for its money. There was no scoring in the second, but Germany outshot Canada 10-6.
It took until 9:14 of the third for Canada to breathe a little easier, with Max Domi finishing off a Sam Reinhart feed. An excited Domi stuck out his tongue and pointed to Reinhart to make sure everyone knew it was Reinhart who had done all the work.
McDavid and Petan combined again, setting up Madison Bowie for the fourth goal.
Eric Comrie notched Canada’s second shutout in as many nights.
Head coach Benoit Groulx said he wasn’t worried about McDavid, reminding everyone that the phenom hadn’t played a game that mattered in almost six weeks because of that hand injury, suffered in a fight.
“We have to understand one thing: He’s been sidelined for five to six weeks, and coming back in a tournament like this is not easy,” said Groulx.
No one connected to Team Canada seemed worried that McDavid was kept off the scoresheet in Canada’s 8-0 thrashing of Slovakia.
“We all know what kind of player he is, what expectations he has for himself,” forward Robby Fabbri said of his teammate, who nonetheless led Canada with six shots in Friday night’s opener. “When he has a game where he has all those chances and nothing went in, it’s tough for any player.
“He sets his goals high, and when he doesn’t reach them it’s frustrating.”
Added Groulx: “I don’t expect someone on this team for seven or eight games to be perfect. They’ll have some very good games, some good games.”
There’s no doubt McDavid has the tools to dominate this tournament offensively, with a much awaited New Year’s Eve showdown against Jack Eichel and Team USA just days away.
But inside the room, the team is not all about McDavid. He’s simply not built that way. He’s the first guy to deflect praise, never taking the attention too seriously.
“He’s the first guy that’s going to let everyone know that,” said Reinhart. “He’s good about it. Everyone’s good about it. That’s not a focus at all in the room.”
At training camp in St. Catharines, Groulx said he wouldn’t put too much pressure on McDavid, emphasizing the team game.
“I don’t think it is the Connor McDavid show,” Groulx said then. “I think Connor is one of our good players, but he is still a young man.
“I think Connor has got to be Connor. He has got to be himself, He has to play. He has to have fun. He has to compete. He has to challenge himself. He has to be Connor McDavid. I expect him to be himself and play like he has been playing, and that is it. I expect our team to be the team that will make the difference, not one guy. I expect the team to find a way to make a difference.”