(Sam Donsig/INTERMISSION SPORTS)
By: Adam Floujeh
Canada’s quarter-final match against Czechia, a rematch of last year’s gold medal game, was decided when Jakub Stancl scored with 11 seconds left in the third period to give Czechia the lead.
It was a shocking moment. An exhilarating win for one side and total heartbreak for the other. Yet one that seemed more and more inevitable as the tournament went on.
This article is in no way trying to take away from Czechia. In a David versus Goliath matchup of hockey nations, it’s good for the sport to have David come out on top once in a while.
But the questions around this year’s iteration of Team Canada began before the puck even dropped on the 2024 World Juniors.
Our team at The Intermission unanimously had Canada winning bronze, a group of predictions that now seems to have given Canada more credit than they deserved.
The fingers being pointed at players like captain Fraser Minten should instead be pointed at Hockey Canada management and coaching staff.
It feels like Hockey Canada, the organization in charge of the sport in the country with the deepest pool of hockey talent in the world, attempted to “galaxy-brain” a roster together of players who “play the right way” instead of simply building a team and structure around the best players available.
Attempting to shove a square peg in a round hole, Hockey Canada took players who are most likely to thrive in two-way positions as their careers go on and forced them into scoring roles, garnering minimal success.
This team could not score to save its life.
Two goals versus Czechia, in their most important game yet.
Six goals versus Germany, which on the surface is perfectly fine until you realize Germany stuck with Canada through the majority of that game. With the greatest of respect, it's Germany and you’re Canada. A blowout is expected.
Three goals against Finland, in a game where the Finns were nowhere near their top level.
Shutout by Sweden, their biggest competition in Group A.
Macklin Celebrini, the projected first-overall pick in the 2024 NHL Draft, started the tournament down the lineup and only got his chance in the top six after Canada’s loss to Sweden. He ranks fifth in tournament scoring at the end of the quarter-final round. The second highest-ranked Canadian was Brayden Yager, at 26th in tournament scoring.
The scoring woes of Team Canada are so much more frustrating when looking at players like Carson Rehkopf and Matthew Wood who produced (four points in five games each) despite the limited roles given to them by head coach Alan Letang.
There’s always discourse over players “snubbed” from Team Canada. Losing the way Canada just did, however, highlights the choices not to have started the tournament with the likes of Riley Heidt, Andrew Cristall and Jagger Firkus.
This Team Canada was never going to live up to 2023. Not having Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli was expected and though missing NHL options like Zach Benson and Kevin Korchinski stung, Canada still had high-end scoring threats they simply chose not to use or use appropriately.
The result was a perennial, though perhaps complacent, contender out in the quarter-finals.