Team Canada had a wild third period to overcome a 3-2 deficit and win a late shootout with Team Finland by a 5-4 final to push their record to 2-0 at the World Under-18 Championship in Dresden, Germany.
Mark Scheifele scored a highlight reel breakaway goal to tie the game with abnout 10 minutes left, and then Nick Cousins deflected a point shot from captain and 2012-eligible Ryan Murray 45 seconds later to gain the lead. Colin Smith then sniped a high shot that beat Samu Perhonen (on a shot we think the Finnish goalie should have had) to make it 5-3. However, Markus Granlund got a late power play tally, but the Finns couldn't solve Malcolm Subban (another 2012 prospect) and Canada prevailed.
It was a good game and both sides played hard. We've been critical of Joel Armia on this blog space, but today, he looked every bit a scoring stud and top-15 pick for the 2011 draft. Another impressive player for FInland was 2012 eligible defenseman Olli Maatta.
Canada next faces Norway, while the Finns have a Scandinavian showdown tomorrow vs. Sweden. That one we're going to see as well!
We're going to stay off the 2012 eligibles for now and will focus our notes on the 2011 draft candidates who stood out both positively and in a few cases, not-so-positively.
Mark Scheifele, C- Played a good game, hustling and making plays. However, his signature moment came with 10 minutes left in the third period, when he scored a brilliant goal to tie the score at 3-3. Standing in the high slot while Finland had possession in Canada's zone, he anticipated that a pass to the point was going to go off target and took off like he was shot from a rocket, chasing the puck down near the red line at center ice and splitting the defense of Henri Auvinen and Ville Pokka. As he gained a step and tried to separate, Auvinen hooked him, but Scheifele fought off the stick with an impressive display of strength, maintained control of the puck and then got Perhonen to bite on a quick fake. After the Finnish netminder laid out to make a poke check and missed, Scheifele tucked it to the backhand and put it home. Plays like that one are why the Barrie Colts pivot's stock has exploded over the second half of the season and why he looks like a surefire first-round pick in June.
Ryan Murphy, D- Continued to show why he's the best offensive defenseman in the draft. We forgot for a second that he switched to No. 14 for the tourney (24 with Kitchener) and were watching as this Canada player outskated about three Finnish players in the neutral zone, gained the line and made a nice net drive that didn't result in a goal, but certainly caught our attention. We weren't surprised then, when consulting the lineup sheet and seeing that No. 14 was indeed Murphy. It was a signature type of move from him. He scored a goal in the second period to tie it at two apiece when he zoomed up the ice with Colin Smith on a 2-on-1, took a sauce pass on the forehand and effortlessly snapped it into the net behind Perhonen in full rush. We didn't key much on Murphy's defense, but he assisted on the first goal of the game scored by Eric Locke and his offensive prowess was in full bloom today.
Mark McNeill, C- Big horse has been impressive for Canada in the tourney so far. Anyone who thinks he doesn't have upside hasn't been paying close attention to what McNeill brings to the table (82 points for Prince Albert this season) and he's making a legitimate run to a potential top-10 selection in June. McNeill drew primary assist on the Locke goal, taking Murphy's point pass and getting it hard to the net where Locke was able to convert the rebound. But, what impressed us was McNeill's defense and discipline. He moved the puck smartly, backchecked diligently and didn't force things that weren't there. On offense, he protects the puck well and sees the ice like a true playmaker. Stock watch: goin' up.
Travis Ewanyk, C- Another kid whose draft stock is on the rise, Ewanyk finished his checks all game long and played with determination. He won the faceoff that led to Cousins' goal to put Canada ahead in the third after Scheifele tied it. His skating stride seems a bit choppy, but he has a wide base and seems to get where he needs to. This guy is one of those gritty, intense players you win with. Kept the pedal to the floor the whole game and came through with a huge assist in a key offensive zone draw. Watch this guy.
Colin Smith, F- He may be small, but he has some serious wheels and just seemed to make plays every time he was in position to do so. Made a beautiful feed to Murphy on a 2-on-1, and then sniped one that seemed to fool Perhonen for what was the game-winner. Canada needs lesser lights like Smith to make an impact in this tournament to take the pressure off of some of their bigger name guys up front, and Smith did that.
Alan Quine, C- Quiet game for No. 18. Didn't do much to stand out, but made several nice passes that show off his outstanding vision and soft hands. Not much of a physical player. Quine has some pretty good wheels and has the ability to get it done with puck possession, but if this game was an indicator of his season overall, you can understand why his stock has fallen.
Joel Armia, F- Finland's best player today had it going offensively with a goal and two helpers. His first assist was a nifty pass, but his goal had scouts talking no doubt. Standing alone off to Subban's right while on the power play (someone blew their assignment), he got the puck and ripped it. Subban made a terrific diving save, going from left to right, but flopped out of the net and on the ice while Armia chased his own rebound, took it around the back of the net and then banked it off of one of Canada's players scrambling to cover for Subban, and the puck found its way into the net. That was just a natural scorer's play and Armia's poise and confidence to pull that off is worth noting. He's got a long, languid stride that makes it appear he isn't skating hard, but he does cover a lot of ground. With his natural height, when he gets stronger and adds weight, Armia will be a load to contain.
Markus Granlund, F- Scored a late power play goal to get Finland within one, but not overly noticeable in this one. Average skater, has some creativity. Nowhere near the pure talent and prospect his older brother Mikael is, but could become a serviceable NHLer in time.
Henri Auvinen, D- Unfortunately, he stood out more for when Scheifele blew by him on the way to the net and then fought off Auvinen's attempted hook. It was the defenseman who ended up sliding on the ice and into the backwall on the play, while Scheifele went to the net and put it in to tie the score. Not much else to judge Auvinen by, but he took the wrong angle to the puck on that play and paid for it.
Samu Perhonen, G- Tough game for Europe's top goalie on Central's final rankings (and some would certainly argue in favor of Swede Magnus Hellberg). He was shaky all day and seemed to be fighting the puck. Big, athletic Finn takes up a lot of net and moves fluidly. However, today he was off his game, giving up some shots from the outside that he probably should have had. He seemed jumpy and was overcommitting all day. On one weird play, Perhonen played the puck behind the net and then blew a tire gliding back to his crease and sprawling out on the ice. Just a poor game overall for Perhonen and it will be interesting to see how he rebounds or if backup Richard Ullberg, who was a disaster this season after coming in as the name goalie prospect coming out of Finland, gets a shot. We expect it will be Perhonen against Sweden, but he might have a short leash.