Nothing is easy for this Canadian team at the world junior championships.
Jonathan Drouin redeemed himself after a bad penalty on his first shift by scoring the tying goal and Nic Petan rediscovered his scoring touch in time to get the game-winner and an empty-netter as Canada used a three-goal third period to down Slovakia 5-3 on Monday.
The win left Canada (2-0-1) two points behind the United States (3-0-0) heading into a showdown for first place in the last preliminary round game for both squads on Tuesday.
They’ll need a regulation win to overtake the defending champion Americans, who eliminated Canada in the semifinals with a 5-1 win at last year’s world juniors in Ufa, Russia
Monday’s game was the best played and most rousing of the three games Canada has played in Malmo, and it certainly brought the mostly Canadian crowd of 2,558 at the Isstadion to their feet as Canada bounced back from penalty trouble and 3-1 second-period deficit to win.
“We regrouped, we found a way,” said Canada coach Brent Suter. “In the third, I thought we dominated.
“We got a break when they hit the post after we got the lead, but the third was maybe the best period we’ve played in the tournament so far.”
Zach Fucale made 19 saves for the win in his first start of the tournament and Sutter said the Halifax Mooseheads goalie will be in net again against the Americans.
And Anthony Mantha, the runaway scoring leader in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, had a goal and three assists to give him nine points in three games.
Not bad for a big winger who was not certain to make the team out of camp three weeks ago.
“I came to camp and I wanted to make my place, and once I did that, I wanted to show I could play great hockey over here and that’s what I’m doing now,” the Detroit Red Wings prospect said.
“Anthony was huge,” added Sutter.
Curtis Lazar also scored for Canada.
David Griger, with two, and Martin Reway scored for Slovakia (1-2-0), which can clinch third place with a win Tuesday over the Czech Republic.
Drouin tied the game at 14:02 of the third period after Mantha beat 16-year-old Erik Cernak behind the Slovak goal and fed it in front.
Canada was on a power play when Petan walked out from the right side and threaded a goal through traffic for the winner.
Canada had to battle back against a Slovak side playing a tight trap and leaning on the power play with the highly skilled unit of Reway, Griger and Milan Kolena for goals.
For the third straight game Canada gave up the first goal, this time after Drouin got a minor and a misconduct for a hit to the head only 10 seconds in. Griger took Jakub Predajniansky’s shot off the end boards and scored into an open side past Fucale.
Drouin did not see the ice again until Canada’s power play at 16:49, but it was Lazar who scored on a one-timer of Mantha’s pass after extended pressure in the Slovak zone at 18:20.
“It wasn’t the start we wanted,” said Drouin, the Mooseheads’ star who was picked third overall by Tampa bay last June. “They scored on the power play I got and Brent let me know between periods.
“I needed to step up in the second and third periods. I put the team down a bit so I had to step up my game. I was going for a normal hit and he moved a bit so I caught him in the face. It’s my bad play.”
The crowd howled at what they felt was Slovak diving that led to a pair of two-man advantages, both of which produced goals in the second frame.
The first saw Gatineau Olympiques forward Reway score his fourth of the tournament with a quick shot from a Kolena feed, and then Griger get his second of the game into an open side from Reway’s pass.
Canada got a big one back as Mantha camped on the doorstep and banged in an Aaron Ekblad rebound at 17:00 to get momentum rolling for the third.
It was a breakout game for Petan and Lazar, who have struggled on attack.
“Me and Curt were talking about our bad luck a bit,” said Petan. “But it’s nice to break through.
“It should be good for (Tuesday). I’m just looking forward to playing a good offensive and defensive game.”
It was also a boost for Fucale, who had been the backup since the first of Canada’s three pre-tournament games but who looks to have won the starting job back from Jake Paterson. The Laval, Que., native looked jittery early on, but made two key saves in the middle period with Slovakia already leading by two goals.
“It was good for me and the team to get that,” he sad. “When it’s 3-1, a lot can happen and 4-1 could be a big difference.
“It was a tough start — a little nervous — but as the game went on I felt better and better. I just wanted to be there for the team and I think that in the end I accomplished that.”
Canada versus the Americans on New Year’s Eve is almost a tradition. It will be their fourth Dec. 31 meeting in the last six years. Canada has won the last three, by 7-4 in 2009 in Ottawa, 5-4 in 2010 in Saskatoon and 3-2 in 2012 in Edmonton.
Drouin hopes to make up for last year’s defeat.
“We’re the underdogs here,” he said. “They won last year and they’re 3-0. We need a good start and to play our own game and not watch them play. It was a hard loss for me and the team last year. This time I just want to make sure we don’t lose again to the Americans.”