By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on December 31, 2023.
GOTHENBURG, Sweden – Macklin Celebrini could see the New Year’s Eve fireworks from the bus on the way to Scandinavium arena.
Canada’s best – and youngest – player exploded hours later in key moments to save his country from an embarrassing result with the calendar flipping to 2024.
The 17-year-old scored twice and drew a crucial penalty that led to the game-winning goal from Jordan Dumas in the third period as Canada beat Germany 6-3 to wrap up the preliminary round at the world junior hockey championship in unimpressive fashion Sunday.
“One of those games where you just got to keep going,” said Celebrini, who is expected to be the top pick at June’s NHL draft. “We just had to push through … it’s never going to be perfect.”
Brayden Yager, with a goal and an assist, Owen Beck and Easton Cowan, into an empty net, provided the rest of the offence for Canada, which lost 2-0 to Sweden on Friday and finished second in Group A.
“It’s when it all counts, it’s when it all matter,” Celebrini said of stepping up. “This one mattered.”
Mathis Rousseau made 17 saves in his fourth consecutive start. Carson Rehkopf and Oliver Bonk had two assists each in a game that was tied 3-3 with under 12 minutes to go in regulation.
The Canadians, who saw forward Conor Geekie kicked out after just 11 seconds, will meet Czechia in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
Julian Lutz, Roman Kechter and Julius Sumpf replied for the Germans, who finished last in the pool and now face Norway in Thursday’s relegation game. Matthias Bittner stopped 29 shots.
Canada entered 16-0-0 all-time against Germany with a combined 101-23 score, including last year’s 11-2 victory in Halifax.
It wasn’t nearly as easy this time.
Tied 2-2 through 40 minutes, a nervous Canada took the lead 1:40 into the third when Rehkopf moved in on Bittner, who overplayed shot, and fed Beck in front for his first of the under-20 event.
Dumais was assessed that double minor to give Germany – which had been 0-for-10 on the power play before Sunday, but had already scored two on the man advantage – a golden opportunity to equalize, which Sumpf did at 7:32.
Dumais, however, snapped the tie a minute later with his first at 8:32 of the third on a power play off a feed from Rehkopf after Celebrini drew a penalty.
The Boston University centre put things to bed with 3:58 remaining with his fourth from a tight angle after beating Bittner in a race for the puck. Cowan added an empty netter, his first, with 2:44 left.
“Really good players do that,” Canada head coach Alan Letang said of Celebrini rising to the occasion. “We needed someone to step up in that moment.
“He’s been that guy.”
Canadian forward Matthew Savoie (lower-body injury) didn’t dress after having an MRI. The national team has summoned winger Jagger Firkus of the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors as a potential replacement.
The other quarterfinal matchups will see Sweden, which topped Group A, against Switzerland, Group B winners United States take on Latvia, and Finland versus Slovakia.
Looking for a third straight gold medal – and its first three-peat since winning five straight from 2005 to 2009 – Canada fell to the hosts 48 hours earlier after picking up a 5-2 victory over Finland before dismantling Latvia 10-0.
Canada, which beat Czechia in last year’s final, was down to 11 forwards with Savoie already out moments into Sunday when Geekie was assessed a major for an illegal check to the head when he demolished a German defender on a hit that’s clean in North America – but not in international hockey.
“It’s really irrelevant,” head coach Alan Letang said of his view. “Their two views are the views that mattered.”
Lutz put Germany, which upset Finland 4-3 before losing to Sweden 5-0 and getting crushed 6-2 by Latvia, ahead at 2:57 on the ensuing power play with his first before Rousseau made a huge stop on Vadim Schreiner.
Celebrini responded with his third at 6:20 off the rush to tie it. Canada took the lead at 14:37 when Yager buried his second on a man advantage after Fraser Minten’s potential high-sticking infraction went uncalled at the other end, leaving Luca Hauf writhing in pain and the Germans with just three skaters on its penalty kill.
Germany got back even 1:49 into the second when Kechter scored on a power play.
Canada had plenty of chances as the period wore on. A frustrated group, however, saw pucks bounce off sticks and shots sail wide from prime scoring positions as the teams headed to the locker rooms tied 2-2 through 40 minutes.
The Canadians are minus significant eligible NHL talent, including the record-breaking Connor Bedard, but still have a roster of quick, skilled players – led by Celebrini.
“Gave us a ton of momentum,” Yager said of the Vancouver native. “Special player. We’ve sent it every game so yeah, he scored two big goals and draws a pretty big penalty.
“It all started with him. Great job by Mack.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2023.
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