MONTREAL — When it comes right down to it, the combination of Sam Reinhart, Anthony Duclair and Max Domi seems to be unstoppable.
That line led the offence — Reinhart had two goals, Duclair one — as Canada earned its third win in three games, 4-1 over Finland on Monday night at the world junior championship.
While the other marquee pairing — Connor McDavid and Curtis Lazar, with an endless stream of left wingers — struggled the Reinhart line motors on.
Reinhart tapped in his own rebound to open the scoring on the power play at 5:32 of the first period. Then he finished off a majestic three-way passing play with Domi and Duclair at 13:34 of the second period.
Domi, son of ex-Leaf Tie Domi, has been a wonder here at the Bell Centre, a fan favourite for his dynamic play. The place wasn’t sold out again — though the crowd was better — but the fans on hand seemed to cheer loudest for Domi, who finished with two assists, including setting up Duclair for a third-period goal to give Canada some breathing room after Finland cut the lead in half.
Lazar added a late power-play goal to finish the scoring.
Goalie Zachary Fucale gets full marks in the win as Canada finally faced an opponent that was their equal in the ability to get shots at the net.
There came a point when one began to wonder if any team was going to score on Canada. Fucale had shut out Slovakia in the opener. Eric Comrie blanked Germany in game two. It marked the third time Canada had started the tournament with two shutouts and just the second time they were recorded by different goalies. The last was 2008, when Jonathan Bernier and Steve Mason did the trick.
But Finland is a stronger opponent than both Slovakia and Germany, one that plays a patient game and waits for mistakes. With Canada holding a 2-0 lead, defenceman Samuel Morin fanned on a pass in his own zone. The puck went straight to Artturi Lehkonen, who probably couldn’t believe his luck. He went in alone on Fucale and scored the first goal against Canada, at 18:26 of the second period. That ended Canada’s shutout streak at 158:26, leaving the Bernier-Mason Canadian record intact at 165:14. Russia (215:09 in 1999) holds the best overall tournament shutout streak.
As Team Canada steamed through the first few days of the tournament, they vowed to keep a humble, workmanlike approach. They wouldn’t be goaded into taking penalties. They wouldn’t be providing any bulletin-board material for the opposition. That includes Finland, the team that humiliated Canada last year, 5-1, in the semifinals.
No Team Canada member — and there are seven on this team that lost to Finland last year — would bite when asked if Monday’s game was a grudge match of sorts. There are seven returning Finns, also. But it was a motivating factor going into the contest, said McDavid.
“A little bit. It’s never fun to lose to a team like that, especially in an elimination game. But this is a different tournament, different team.”
With the focus so much on the big names, it’s a little easy to lose sight of some of the role players who have adapted to coach Benoit Groulx’s plan and helped the goalies to their shutout run.
On top of that list is Leafs prospect Frederik Gauthier, who went into Monday night as the top faceoff man in the tournament with an 84.2 per cent success rate, having won 16 of 19 including 10-for-10 against Germany on Saturday.
“Every time in the circle, I try to do my best,” said Gauthier, who practises faceoffs and gets tips from the game’s best by watching videos. “I want to be good at faceoffs. I look at the pro guys and how they take faceoffs and get a few hints, but I’m just trying to do my best. Is there a trick? No, not really, just trying to win it, nothing more.”
Overall, Canada had won 67 of 105 faceoffs (63.8 per cent).
Gauthier is on the team because of his defensive talent, a rare quality in a junior hockey player, especially from the go-go Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“You have to be reliable in all three zones and Gauthier is an example of that, for sure,” said Fucale.
Gauthier is thriving as the fourth centre — i.e. the checking line, the other three loaded with offence. He’s also the team’s top penalty killer and takes just about every important defensive-zone faceoff.
“Personally, I think I’m doing good,” said Gauthier. “I’ve been doing my thing. The team is doing well, too. A good overall performance.
- This story is updated from an earlier version