Canada thumped by Russia, lose star Alexis Lafreniere to injury at world juniors

Russia 6 Canada 0

OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — Canada was embarrassed 6-0 by Russia and also lost star winger Alexis Lafreniere to an apparent knee injury on a disastrous night for one of the tournament favourites at the world junior hockey championship Saturday.

The projected No. 1 pick at the 2020 NHL draft, Lafreniere was hurt early in the second period with the Canadians already down 3-0 as he cut to the net on a power play.

The 18-year-old bumped into Russian goalie Amir Miftakhov after being knocked slightly off balance by defenceman Yegor Zamula — his left knee twisting awkwardly underneath him as he fell to the ice.

Lafreniere, who had a goal and three assists in Canada’s wild 6-4 victory over the United States on Thursday to open the under-20 event, lay writhing in pain clutching the joint before being attended to by the team’s trainer inside a stunned Ostravar Arena.

The native of Saint-Eustache, Que., didn’t put any weight on the knee as he left the ice with the help of teammates and went straight to the locker room.

The shutout was also the first time since Dec. 27, 1998 that Canada was held scoreless at the world juniors — snapping a streak of 134 straight games.

Nikita Alexandrov, with a goal and an assist, Alexander Khovanov, Pavel Dorofeyev, Nikita Rtischev, Yegor Sokolov and Grigory Denisenko scored for Russia, which rebounded in impressive fashion from a 4-3 upset loss to the host Czech Republic on Boxing Day.

Miftakhov, who started in place of Yaroslav Askarov after the 17-year-old phenom was pulled in that one, registered 28 saves for the shutout.

Nico Daws allowed four goals on 17 shots for Canada before getting the hook in favour of Joel Hofer, who finished with 20 saves.

Along with the loss of its best player, Saturday’s performance surely ranks as one of the worst for Canada in the event’s 44-year history.

In other Group B action, Germany stunned the Czechs 4-3 for the country’s first victory at the tournament since 2013.

The Canadians, Russians, Czechs, Americans and Germans all sit with 1-1 records in what was dubbed a “Group of Death” in the build-up. Canada will look to regroup Monday against upstart Germany, while Russia and the U.S. meet Sunday.

Canada fell 2-1 to the Russians in the final round-robin game of last year’s tournament in Vancouver and Victoria, B.C., to set up a tough quarterfinal matchup with Finland. The hosts subsequently lost that one 2-1 in overtime to finish a disappointing sixth on home soil.

Coming off that emotional victory over the U.S. where they fell behind 2-0 in the first and scored late after blowing a 4-2 lead, the Canadians were once again on the back foot early.

Khovanov opened the scoring just 1:44 in when Daws couldn’t track a shot off his blocker and fell backwards as the puck came to a rest just over the goal line.

Canada had a couple chances at the other end, but the Russians made it 2-0 at 10:14 when Dorofeyev found himself alone in front to roof a backhand past a down-and-out Daws.

The Canadians, who have won the world juniors a record 17 times, then killed off a penalty, but Rtischev scored from the slot at 13:43 to make it 3-0.

Daws was whistled for tripping less than a minute later and Jacob Bernard-Docker went off for holding the stick to hand the Russians a 5-on-3 power play for 49 seconds, but Canada held firm after giving up three goals on five American power-play opportunities on Thursday.

After losing Lafreniere early in the second on a man advantage, the shell-shocked Canadians gave up a fourth goal when Alexandrov swept in front and tucked a shot past Daws, who is playing in his first-ever international tournament, at 2:18 to end the netminder’s night.

Also green on this stage, Hofer made a couple saves after joining the fray, but Sokolov tipped a point shot home with 6:51 remaining in the second and the rout was truly on at 5-0.

Last year’s bronze medallists kept coming, and Denisenko scored off the rush with 3:36 left in the period before jumping against the boards in celebration near one of the Maple Leaf flags dotting the pro-Canadian crowd.

The desperate Russians were the better team from start to finish after losing to the Czechs, but goaltending was Canada’s biggest question mark coming into the tournament in Ostrava and Trinec, now along with Lafreniere’s uncertain status, that remains the case.

To put things in perspective, the Canadians gave up four goals in four round-robin games last year.

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