HELSINKI — Tom Renney came to the defence of Canada’s coaching staff at the world junior hockey championships on Sunday.
The president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada spoke a day after Canada dropped a 6-5 decision to Finland in the quarter-finals of the international event, guaranteeing a sixth-place finish at the tournament. It is the lowest Canada has placed at the world juniors since 1998.
“I thought our team was very well prepared, I thought we had as good a coaching staff at the competition as anyone,” Renney said in a conference room at the team’s hotel. “There’s no doubt in my mind that our guys put the time and effort in to have the team ready to go.
“There is a point in time where that transfer of responsibility goes from the coach to the player.”
Head coach Dave Lowry’s squad of under-20s struggled throughout the tournament with discipline on the ice. Canada took 10 minor penalties in a 5-2 loss to Sweden in the final game of the preliminary round before taking nine penalties in the quarter-final loss to Finland.
A particularly costly series of events saw forward Jake Virtanen — on loan from the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks — take a double minor in the third period against Finland. While killing that penalty defenceman Joe Hicketts took a delay of game penalty when trying to clear the puck.
It was during the ensuing 5-on-3 that Patrik Laine scored the game-winning goal for Finland.
“That’s the beauty of this event,” said Renney. “We’re talking about teenagers that are having to deal and cope with situations in the spontaneity of playing hockey that sometimes work against you and sometimes don’t.
“The bottom line is that the coaching staff did an excellent job.”
Instead, Renney pointed to the performance of goaltenders Mackenzie Blackwood and Mason McDonald and Canada’s power play and penalty kill units.
“At the end of the day, our special teams needed to maybe perform a bit better,” said Renney. “When your save percentage is under .900 everyone knows that it’s going to be tough to win. There’s no question about that.”
Canada’s team save percentage was second-worst in the 10-team tournament at .860 and Blackwood and McDonald combined for a 3.58 goals-against average.
The Canadian power play was tied with Russia as second-best at the world juniors (up to quarter-final play) with a 33 per cent conversion rate. Its penalty-killing unit, however, was dead last with a 58.82 percentage.
American head coach Ron Wilson said the Canadians paid the price for their lack of discipline.
“Canada was so close but they shot themselves in the foot,” Wilson said Sunday after his team’s practice. “I mentioned to their coach before the game that you’ve got to make sure you don’t take any penalties because penalties will kill you, especially against Finland. Finland had the best power play coming in.
“I guess you could say they got what they deserved when they’re living and dying by the penalty. You just can’t do that.”
Regardless of who is to blame, Renney and the rest of Hockey Canada can’t hide their disappointment in one of the worst performances by a Canadian team at the world juniors.
“We’re not happy with our situation, obviously. We’re not happy where we finished,” said Renney. “This is a competition like any at the world level that will expose deficiencies in teams throughout the course of the competition and also illuminate some of the things that are real good about a federation, ours included.
“The fact of that matter is we came up short. We have to sit back and evaluate why and look for solutions and not point fingers.”