February 26th, 2024

Rousseau solid in goal, Canada downs Finland 5-2 in world junior opener

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on December 26, 2023.

Canada goaltender Mathis Rousseau makes a save on Finland's Lenni Hameenaho during IIHF World Junior Championship group A action in Gothenburg, Sweden on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Bjorn Larsson Rosvall/TT News Agency via AP

GOTHENBURG, Sweden – Mathis Rousseau was passed over in consecutive NHL drafts.

Owen Allard didn’t hear his name last June.

Macklin Celebrini, meanwhile, is expected to go No. 1 in 2024.

Three players with very different career trajectories were key in Canada’s victory to open the world junior hockey championship Tuesday.

Rousseau made 24 saves, including an outrageous glove stop in the first period, while Allard and Celebrini both found the back of the net in the country’s 5-2 victory over Finland.

“Unbelievable,” said Rousseau, a native of Boisbriand, Que. “Growing up you see world juniors, it’s something big. And now I’m here. Make a great save for the team and then we won.

“Makes the moment even more special.”

Nate Danielson added a goal and an assist before Matthew Poitras and Maveric Lamoureux scored into the empty net. Lamoureux also had an assist for a two-point performance at the annual under-20 tournament.

“Surreal experience,” Allard said. “Seeing the Canadian fans is just something special, something I’ve never experienced before.”

Aleksanteri Kaskimaki and Jere Lassila replied for Finland. Niklas Kokko made 26 stops.

Canada, the two-time defending gold medallist looking for its first three-peat since 2009, has just one returning player from the 2023 event in Halifax.

The United States and hosts Sweden are viewed as favourites ahead of the Canadians by many observers – with the primary reason being the boatload of absent talent.

Canada is minus five players currently in the professional ranks, including Connor Bedard, while defenceman Tristan Luneau, who played six games with the Anaheim Ducks this season, made the roster before having to be hospitalized with a viral infection.

“Some nerves … I mean, how could there not?” Canada head coach Alan Letang said. “It was pretty quiet before the game.”

The North Americans opened the scoring with 3:36 left in the first when Lamoureux fired a shot that went in off Danielson.

Passed over in 14 draft rounds the last two years, Rousseau had Canadian fans out of their seats moments before the icebreaker when he robbed Lenni Hameenaho with that terrific stop on a 3-on-1 that became a 2-on-0.

“You just feel the play coming,” he explained. “Felt great.”

Jordan Dumais hit the post on a breakaway chance that would have made it 2-0 in the second.

Allard eventually pushed Canada in front by two with 6:19 left in the period when his shot also found iron before ricocheting in off Kokko’s skate.

The six-foot-two, 200-pound Ottawa native leapt into Scadinavium arena’s flimsy glass in celebration.

“Some of the boys thought the glass was going down,” he said. “Kind of blacked out.”

Allard was limited by injury last season, which no doubt played a part in him not getting drafted in June.

It seems unlikely that will be the case again in six months time.

“Wins an opportunity to play here,” Letang said. “He’s going to enjoy every moment.”

Finland finally got one past Rousseau on a power play 2:15 later when Kaskimaki tipped a shot.

Celebrini hit the crossbar in the third, but wouldn’t be denied seconds later at 6:38 when he pushed the puck over the line on a scramble that required video review.

The 17-year-old Vancouver native and presumptive top pick at the 2024 draft wasn’t available to reporters post-game after being whisked away by doping control.

“Pretty confident in our video guy,” Letang said of the review. “When he calls down there’s usually a reason.”

Poitras scored into an empty net with 2:26 left in regulation before Lassila got a consolation goal with 64 seconds remaining. Lamoureux then added his empty netter.

Canada is in Group A with the Finns, Swedes, Latvia and Germany. Group B consists of the U.S., Czechia, Slovakia, Switzerland and Norway.

Thousands of Canadians have descended on this city of roughly 600,000 on Sweden’s west coast for the tournament.

The stands were painted red on Boxing Day.

“Incredible seeing the amount of fans,” Rousseau said. “Cheering for us on this ice, in this rink.

“It means a lot.”

Along with Allard and Celebrini, he meant a lot to Canada in a solid curtain-raising performance.

SONG CHOICE

Canada’s management settled on “Ordinary Day” by Great Big Sea as the country’s goal song to succeed last year’s “Heave Away” pick by The Fables.

Allard said the players weren’t sure when it was first played at a team meeting Monday.

“A bit skeptical,” he explained. “But as we heard it with the fans and everything, it was really good.”

Part of the reason for the skepticism might be the tune was released in 1997 – long before any of them were born.

“To be honest, no,” Allard said when asked if he’d heard the song prior to Monday. “But we’re hearing it lots now, and hopefully we’ll hear it lots throughout the tournament.

“It’s got a good ring.”

UP NEXT

Canada faces Latvia on Wednesday, while Finland takes on Germany.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20,6 2023.

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