Connor-da going for gold

TORONTO, CANADA - JANUARY 4: Canada's Curtis Lazar #26 looks for a scoring chance against Slovakia's Denis Godla #30 while fending off Dominik Rehak #12 during semifinal action at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)

5-1 win over Slovakia takes home side to gold game

Canada has booked a date with Russia for the gold medal tomorrow night after defeating a determined Slovak team 5-1 at the Air Canada Centre tonight.

The team was led by Nic Petan's hat trick and three assists from Connor McDavid, who could have scored a hat trick in his own right. McDavid was dangerous virtually every shift he was on the ice, and his line has quickly become the most potent on the team. 

"It was one of those nights when pucks were just finding me," Petan said. "I felt I was skating well, and I got some good passes from McDavid."

"He was unbelievable," McDavid said of Petan. "Just give him the puck, and he finds a way to put it in the net. He's a great player."

Only the play of Slovak goaltender Denis Godla and a bit of misfiring from close range by Canada prevented the score from being much higher. Shots in the game were 6-6 after the first period but favoured Canada 44-15 by the end of the night.

"He played a great game in their net," Sam Reinhart said of Godla, "but so did Fucale for us, making timely saves."

Indeed, when Godla was, shockingly, not named player of the game for Slovakia, fans started to chant for him, and he acknowledged the crowd. "It was overwhelming," he said. "I will remember it for the rest of my life."

Curtis Lazar also had three assists and now the top three scorers in the tournament are all Canadian: Petan leads with eleven followed by Reinhart and McDavid with ten each.

"I think they just punished all our mistakes," said Slovak captain Martin Reway. "I knew it was going to be like this, but we can’t just play the way we did today. It’s pretty hard for us to play against them. Mistakes happen, but we can’t do that in the semi-finals. It’s going to cost us the game, as you saw."

Several things were clear from the first period. One, as expected, Canada was the dominant team. Two, Slovak players who said they were a different team to the one that lost 8-0 on opening night were absolutely right.

Canada had a significant territorial advantage and moved the puck around almost at will in the Slovak end, but for all of that possession the team managed only six shots and one goal during the first period. That came as a result of a nice three-way passing play.

It came off the rush on a power play. McDavid moved the puck into the Slovak end and passed off to captain Curtis Lazar. Lazar found Petan in the slot, and his quick release got a shot over the glove of Godla from an awkward angle.

The Slovaks, however, showed many attributes not evident in the Boxing Day game. For starters, they didn’t back down to Canada’s physical play, even though they got the worse of many of the checks.

As well, they created some holes in Canada’s defence and generated a couple of excellent scoring chances. First among these was an ill-advised slapshot inside the Slovakia blue line by Madison Bowey that was blocked by Pavol Skalicky. Skalicky went the length of the ice on a breakaway only to be denied on a deke by a great right-pad save by Zach Fucale.

Earlier, on a power play, Peter Cehlarik had a shot from point-blank range, but Fucale’s positioning was perfect and he made a great save look routine.

The Slovaks, determined not to suffer another blowout, played great defence in their own end, keeping Canada to the outside even if the hosts had control of the puck.

"We got off to a slow start in the first period, but I think after that we played well," Petan said. "That was one of our worst periods."

Canada established its superiority in the second period. The Slovaks were even more content to play inside their own end, keeping Canada to the outside, but the Canadians got more pucks to the net and scored two late goals to go up 3-0.

The first was another gem from McDavid. He beat two Slovaks to the puck and swept it to the slot where Petan drilled a high shot over Godla at 18:06.

"I didn't really know it went in," Petan said. "I thought it went crossbar and out, but I threw my hands up when the crowd threw their hands up."

Then, a blocked shot led to the third Canadian goal. Mislav Rosandic’s shot was stopped by Shea Theodore. He controlled the puck and went in on a two-on-one with Anthony Duclair. Theodore finished off the play with just 28.3 seconds left in the period.

But, as the Canadian bench and 18,002 fans were celebrating, the Slovaks were clawing their way back before the intermission. Matej Paulovic chased down a loose puck in the Canada zone and made a nice pass to David Soltes, just as Soltes reached the crease. He redirected the puck past Fucale with only 3.4 seconds left in the period, sending the Slovaks to their dressing room with more confidence than the Canadians would have liked.

Duclair made it 4-1 at 2:47 of the third, however, on a fine individual effort. He got around one defenceman and had his shot stopped by Godla, but when the puck went behind the icing line he shot it back, deflecting it off Godla's leg and into the goal.

As fans alternated chants between "We want Russia!" and "We want gold!" McDavid went to work again, threading another great pass to Petan, who made no mistake with the open net at 11:59.

"It was an incredible feeling," Petan said of the dozens of hats that rained onto the ice after his third goal of the night. "Years from now I'll look back on it and think it's pretty cool."

In the meantime, he and his teammates will ready themselves for Russia tomorrow night with gold on the line.

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