Mediocre goaltending. A lack of discipline.
Granted, the Canadian goalies weren’t exactly stellar and the team was assessed too many needless penalties, but the fact remains that there was a fine line between winning and losing in the recent world junior hockey championship in Helsinki.
Canada finished third in Pool A and drew a difficult quarter-final foe in host Finland, which overcame an early 2-0 deficit and prevailed in a thrilling 6-5 squeaker, then went on to post narrow, one-goal victories over Sweden in a semifinal and Russia in Tuesday’s championship game. The Canadians, then, weren’t necessarily out-classed.
“We had a really tough pool. Playing the USA in the first game and then Sweden … those are some pretty highly-skilled teams,” Team Canada and Red Deer Rebels defenceman Haydn Fleury said Thursday. “And countries like Switzerland and Denmark keep getting better each year.”
Still, it was a disappointing showing for a country that is almost always in contention for a medal.
“We didn’t put ourselves in the best spot coming out of the round-robin,” said Fleury. “But I thought we played our best game of the tournament against the Finns. The puck just wasn’t going our way that night.”
Fleury played a regular shift with Team Canada and picked up one assist in five games. He admitted, and many of his teammates would likely make the same claim, that he could have played better.
“It took me awhile to find my game … I don’t feel that I truly found my game the whole tournament,” he said. “But I’m hoping I can learn from the experience, take away the little things and use them to help our team here.
“Playing on the big (Olympic-size) ice is a lot harder than playing in North America, so that’s probably one of the reasons Canada hasn’t medalled over there (Europe) for close to 10 years or so. It’s a learning experience, for sure.”
Fleury had represented his country in previous international age-class competitions, but he admitted there was something extra thrilling about appearing and competing on a major stage.
“It’s something special,” said the 19-year-old Carolina Hurricanes prospect. “The support you get on social media at the rink, and with so many Canadian fans over there in Finland … the support you get is second to none.”
During Fleury’s absence — he left for the Canadian final selection camp in early December and was back in the Red Deer lineup for Tuesday’s 4-3 win at Prince Albert — the Rebels acquired impact forwards Jake DeBrusk, Adam Helewka and Luke Philp, who won’t join the club until later this month.
Fleury got a first-hand glance at three of the recent acquisitions — including rugged forward Taden Rattie — in Prince Albert and again during Wednesday’s 5-0 win at Saskatoon.
“Playing with those guys is pretty special, they’re all unbelievable players,” said Fleury. “And we don’t even have Philp in our lineup yet.”
The Rebels were also minus the services of Czech forward Michael Spacek and third-year centre Adam Musil during the games in Prince Albert and Saskatoon. Spacek, who also played in the world juniors, will be back in the lineup tonight while Musil is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
“We’re kind of missing a full top-six line right now,” said Fleury.
“Once we have all our guys back we should have something special here.”
He’s only been back with the club for two games, but the six-foot-three rearguard sees a higher level of confidence in the Rebels than he detected prior to his departure for the world juniors.
“For sure, even in Prince Albert I was almost in awe of what our team can do now,” said Fleury. “We’re big, we’re strong … a guy like Taden Rattie loves to hit guys. We played a couple of good games on the road and got four points, and that’s the main thing.”
The Rebels are anxious to put their new-found self-assurance to the test tonight against the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes, who are 3-o against Red Deer this season. The clubs are tied for top spot in the Eastern Conference.
“Our whole team is going to be excited for that one, we owe these guys (‘Canes),” said Fleury.
“It should be a good game.”