It was the kind of performance by Connor McDavid that folks taking in the world junior hockey championship have been waiting for.
And to the chagrin of the Danes — who must have wondered “Why us?” — the real eye-popping McDavid showed up in this quarter-final.
McDavid scored an electrifying goal on a breakaway and was just as breathtaking with a pair of assists as Canada beat Denmark 8-0 on Friday night to advance to Sunday’s semifinal.
Canada will play Slovakia in Sunday’s semifinal for a chance to play for the gold medal on Monday. Sweden will play Russia in the other semifinal.
McDavid had looked somewhere between good and great in this tournament but he had not dominated the way he had dominated the OHL before breaking his hand with the Erie Otters last month.
But he’s only played six games since that ill-fated mid-November fight. And it takes everyone — even the best — time to come back.
And now it looks like he’s come all the way back. And he did it on the same day the nearest rival to him in the NHL draft — Jack Eichel — went home, thanks to Russia beating the U.S. in Montreal.
McDavid’s burst of speed midway through the first period — he simply blazed by everybody — took him behind the net, where his pass as he was falling found Curtis Lazar out front beautifully. And at 10:37, it was 1-0 Canada.
McDavid then put on a show in the second, stealing the puck at the Denmark blueline and going this-way, that-way, this-way again in a split second to confound Danish goalie Georg Sorensen.
The rout was on.
McDavid did it again in the third, poking a puck free in the Denmark zone, carrying it toward Sorensen, dropping it to Lazar, who dropped it to Brayden Point. At that point it was 7-0 Canada, and Sorensen’s night was over.
No one thought this game would be close. Danish coach Olaf Eller had joked to reporters his team was undefeated in world junior tournament quarter-final play. The reason? This was Denmark’s first appearance in one.
Lazar ended the night with two goals. Nick Ritchie, Sam Reinhart, Lawson Crouse and Nick Paul also scored for Canada. Goaltender Zach Fucale earned his second shutout of the tournament.
Canada is now 8-1 all-time in world junior quarter-finals, the last loss being in 1998 to Russia, back when a lot of the players in this tournament were just getting out of diapers.
Denmark did itself proud getting this far, a country with 4,252 total hockey players (registered men, women and juniors) and 15 indoor rinks. Denmark survived relegation for the first time in the IIHF Under-20 top group.
The only thing Denmark could do was play the kind of game that might raise some questions about Canada.
Like, would it be such a dominating performance that Canada it might go to the heads of these young players so that they might think they can take their foot off the gas?
After all, they get Slovakia in the semifinal and they beat them 8-0 earlier in the tournament in Montreal.
Or would it be close, giving Canada a scare? No, it turns out.
Could there possibly be injuries that will be a factor going forward? The answer to that is yes, with Robby Fabbri helped off the ice, favouring his right leg after a first-period hit.
That immediately forced Canadian coach Benoit Groulx to juggle his lines.
And what about Fucale in net? The decision to go back and forth between him and Eric Comrie has been curious. But it hasn’t hurt.
In fact, in the first period, Denmark held the play, outshooting Canada 4-0. Fucale had to be very good to prevent the unthinkable — having the other team score first.
For a while, it looked like that might happen. Denmark had the best early chances.
Lazar’s conversion of McDavid’s pass at 10:37 and Reinhart’s completion of a Duclair pass at 15:17 gave Canada a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
Leaf watchers got a taste of Frederik Gauthier’s game in the second. The big-hearted soul missed a glorious chance in the second period — his problem is finishing. But he stayed with the puck, held the zone and his tenaciousness led to Crouse’s first goal of the tournament. Crouse, like McDavid, is draft eligible and is going up a lot of scouts lists. Some have him at No. 3 behind McDavid and Jack Eichel.
McDavid then scored his highlight-reel, unassisted breakaway goal at 10:21 while Lazar, set up by a great feed from Joe Hicketts for Canada’s three-goal second period.