‘Don’t go to Michigan on the way to finals’: Canada hits reset button at world juniors

Dylan Guenther is all about elite players who use every available tool at their disposal.

He is one of them.

It’s when that skill extends outside of a team’s structure that problems can arise.

Canada attempted “The Michigan” move twice in the early stages of Monday’s embarrassing 5-2 loss to the Czech Republic at the world junior hockey championship.

Adam Fantilli and Connor Bedard both came up snake-eyed as they picked up the puck with their sticks behind the net and attempted to beat goaltender Tomas Suchanek into the near top corner lacrosse-style.

Guenther saw nothing wrong with either sequence in a vacuum.

But what they illustrated was how far the Canadians had already strayed from a supposed hard-nosed identity and game plan to go with their advanced talent against an opponent that hadn’t registered a regulation win against the tournament favorites in 23 previous meetings.

“We’re not going to ‘Michigan’ our way to the Finals,” Guenther, who previously scored with the same polarizing move in the Western Hockey League, said Tuesday at the team’s hotel. “We’re trying hard. It’s a skillful game. I understand that. But I think that’s the way our game is going right now.

“We’re trying to skill through it. We’re trying to toe-drag, beat guys one-on-one.”

SEE | Czechs upset Canada at world juniors:

Canada never recovers as match penalty leads to a pair of Czech goals

After Canada was penalized for an illegal hit, the Czech Republic scored twice to put the game out of reach.

The Arizona Coyotes forward is one of three players on loan to Canada for the men’s under-20 showcase by NHL clubs, speaking from a position of authority.

“You have to play the right way,” said Guenther, who has 11 points in 21 NHL games this season. “Play together and play as a team. It starts with the simple side of the game – winning games. Our skills … there is no problem.

“That’s the level of competition.”

Timing is key

Canadian head coach Dennis Williams also has no problem with hockey’s most talented generation to date going for the bold – as long as the timing is right.

“Would have seen us do a better job of getting to the paint, getting to the tough areas, focusing more on the way we want to play,” he said. “We were perimeter, and then to go to ‘The Michigan’ play … sometimes there’s a little better play to make.”

The Canadian forward Logan Stankoven does not have that move on his heart in the heat of the match.

“It’s great to see the game evolve,” the Dallas Stars draft pick said. “When we need a goal or when the game is so close, it might not be a time.”

The possessor of mesmerizing skills and projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL draft, Bedard also attempted the move in pre-tournament action, while Fantilli — another likely top-5 pick — has thrived in the highlight play first noted by the University of Michigan forward Mike Legg in 1996.

“Some people might think it’s individualistic, some people think it’s a good scoring opportunity behind the net,” Fantilli said in his first season at Michigan. “There’s a limit to how many times you can try it in a game and how many times you can try it in a tournament.

“It can be a good scoring chance, but sometimes you have to know when to curl back and make the right play.”

SEE | I was in net for the… Michigan goal:

I was in the net for the…Michigan goal

In Episode 5 of our new series, Rob Pizzo talks with former Minnesota Golden Gopher goalie Steve DeBus about the infamous Mike Legg lacrosse goal in the 1996 NCAA Tournament.

“It doesn’t define us”

An undisciplined, disjointed Canada didn’t do much against the Czechs on a humiliating night in front of the first maritime world junior crowd in two decades.

“It doesn’t define us,” said Williams, whose team had a scheduled day off the ice Tuesday. “This might be the best thing that’s happened to our group — understanding that we’re just not going to put on our skates and win hockey games. We’ve got to compete, we’ve got to fight, we’ve got to clear pucks, we’ve got to be physical, we’ve got to stay out of the penalty box.

“I hope the players accept our challenge.”

Canada has gone with the same forward lines since cuts were made after the selection camp, but Williams indicated there will be changes when his team meets Germany on Wednesday.

Thomas Milic, meanwhile, will get the start in goal after stopping all 10 shots he faced Monday in relief of Benjamin Gaudreau.

“Super excited,” Millic said. “Something every goalkeeper dreams of.”

The netminder also had a front-row seat to his teammates’ efforts against the Czechs, echoing their sentiments.

“Not enough of anything, really,” Milic said. “Guys, I think, took them a little too easy. Need to key in some details and re-establish our foundation.”

It includes preparations.

“There’s a difference between being loose and having fun and being ready to go,” Guenther said. “We were on the loose side. Obviously, it’s not one day it happens — it leads up to it. Overall, we’ve got to get better.”

While there was plenty of doom and gloom on the outside, the sun was still rising in overcast Halifax on Tuesday.

Guenther saw a silver lining.

“First of all, it’s not us,” he said of the Czech horror show. “It’s not who we are. It’s not that we have to reinvent the wheel. It’s things we should do every day. Reset button.”

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