World Juniors: How a hunch and a serving to of dedication led to Akil Thomas’ gold medal second

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – How do you cease a Huge Purple Machine? A pleasant serving to of grit all the time helps.
Workforce Canada gained gold on the 2020 World Junior Championship due to an instant-classic rating by Los Angeles Kings prospect Akil Thomas, however it took the entire roster to dispatch an extremely robust Russian group within the Four-Three nail-biter.
Hockey groups love to speak concerning the adversity they face, however on this case it was warranted. A parade to the penalty field within the first interval had Canada in harmful territory and the Canucks had been lucky to come back out of the body with the sport tied Zero-Zero. Huge efforts by goalie Joel Hofer (STL) and forwards corresponding to Joe Veleno (DET) and Liam Foudy (CBJ) saved the puck out of the online, whereas glorious element performs from the likes of Ty Dellandrea (DAL) and Aidan Dudas (LA) had been noticeable all through the early going.
“Our penalty-kill was enormous for us,” mentioned Buffalo decide Dylan Cozens. “We gained momentum off that and we simply rolled with it.”
Dudas particularly was attention-grabbing as a result of he was recovering from a hand damage simply earlier than the event. Workforce Canada gave him as a lot time as he wanted to get wholesome and it grew to become very obvious within the gold-medal recreation why they wished him so fiercely.
“Any group that wins one thing – a Stanley Cup, a world juniors – all of them have a man like Aidan Dudas: a man who can do something,” Thomas mentioned. “Competes laborious, wins battles, he’s quick, he’s relentless and he’s only a winner. We’re a complete group of winners. Nobody was egocentric, everybody purchased in and that’s why I’m not stunned we’ve got the gold medal round our necks.”
And holding Russia at bay was no straightforward feat. I consider we’ll look again at this silver-medal squad in 10 years and marvel in any respect the NHL expertise that was stuffed onto the roster, which meant Canada needed to play its greatest recreation of the event, by far.
“They had been actually good,” Cozens mentioned. “The best way they moved the puck up the ice, their techniques, their construction, was actually good. We knew we needed to get pucks behind them, work their ‘D,’ tire them out and handle the puck within the offensive zone.”
However Russia couldn’t distance itself sufficient. Canada shortly scored after Russia made it Three-1 within the third interval and captain Barrett Hayton, goal of Russia’s ire for the round-robin helmet debacle, fired a rocket minutes later to tie the sport. The very fact the Arizona Coyotes rookie might even wield a stick was fairly wonderful, contemplating how tough his shoulder sorted he was dumped into the boards by Finland’s Lassi Thomson the day earlier than within the semifinal.
“He was the captain for a purpose,” mentioned Columbus decide Liam Foudy. “Plenty of guys wouldn’t even have performed right this moment. He powered by and scored an incredible purpose for us and helped us so much.”
So…did Hayton even suppose he would make it to the gold-medal recreation?
“Clearly I didn’t wish to miss this recreation for something,” he mentioned. “That being mentioned, I didn’t actually know. The medical workers did an unbelievable job and I owe it to them for giving me this chance to play.”
It was actually an eventful world juniors for the gifted heart. On prime of the helmet controversy and the damage, Hayton additionally took an ill-advised holding-the-stick penalty within the first interval towards Russia. However that’s all historical past now that the tourney is over.
“It’s fairly loopy that it’s solely been 11 days,” Hayton mentioned. “It felt so lengthy, it’s been so unbelievable. There have been ups and downs, some adversity in there, however on the finish of the day that helps you in a high-emotion recreation like this. It’s unreal to complete like this.”
And naturally, there wouldn’t have been a cheerful ending with out Thomas, who picked a good time to attain his first purpose of the event. Chasing down a puck that was getting perilously near Russian netminder Amir Miftakhov, Thomas made a jaw-dropping transfer to corral it, then roof it over the inclined goaltender.
“After I don’t have area – for me, when doubtful, I’m going backhand,” he mentioned. “I believe that was the best play for that second and it labored.”
Coach Dale Hunter mentioned he had a hunch about getting Thomas on the market late in a tie recreation and certain sufficient, it paid off.
“He was skating effectively,” Hunter mentioned. “He was enjoying very effectively the previous few video games. We might see him bettering; he was killing penalties for us, he was doing the little issues – he blocked a giant shot – and while you try this, you’re rewarded again.”
And that’s the humorous factor concerning the fairytale ending: Thomas had principally been a fourth-liner the entire event, usually taking shifts late in blowouts with the likes of Quinton Byfield and Dawson Mercer, two 2020 draft prospects with minimal roles on the group. Fortunately, he saved at it.
“The blokes who didn’t play that a lot for our group are first-liners on their CHL group or wherever they play,” Thomas mentioned. “Nobody had a nasty angle. A man like Olivier Rodrigue, the third-string goalie, got here in every single day with a smile on his face and impressed me to be affected person and consider within the course of. It turned out good for me and I bought to assist my group as a lot as I might.”
Whereas Thomas was nonetheless processing the implications of his purpose after the sport, it’s honest to say that Jordan Eberle has a brand new pal within the pantheon of Canadian world junior legends. And he had a complete group serving to him get to that second.
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Tags: world junior championshipConnect: In regards to the AuthorRyan KennedyRyan Kennedy is the affiliate senior author and draft/prospect professional at The Hockey Information. He has been with the publication since 2005 and in that span, Don Cherry, Lil Jon and The Rock have all known as his home. He lives in Toronto along with his spouse and youngsters the place he listens to loud music and collects NCAA pennants.

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