Canada suffers 1st loss at world juniors in shutout at hands of host Sweden


Alan Letang has seen Canada respond from adversity in the past.

The country lost its opener 5-2 to the Czech Republic at last year’s world junior hockey championship on home soil before bouncing back to win a second consecutive gold medal.

Letang was an assistant on that coaching staff. Now in the big chair, he’ll have to draw on that experience to get this iteration back on track.

Hugo Havelid made 21 saves Friday in Sweden’s 2-0 victory over Canada in a game where the North Americans never really got going after a decent first period.

“If we thought we weren’t gonna get challenged in this tournament, and we weren’t going to face this adversity, we’d be pretty naive,” Letang said. “The belief hasn’t changed. It’s not wavering.”

He also indicated another gear is required from some of his players.

“They’ve got to look at themselves and think if they’ve given enough,” Letang added.

Unlike the 2023 event in Halifax, however, Canada doesn’t have the game-breaking skill of Connor Bedard or a host of other eligible NHLers unavailable at this under-20 showcase when things go sideways.

“We played too much individual, too much skill,” said Canadian goaltender Mathis Rousseau, who did his part with 22 saves, including one that impressed Hall of Fame netminder Henrik Lundqvist from the stands. “A lot of problems getting inside because the guys were just trying to go one-on-one versus everybody.”

Tom Willander and Noah Ostlund scored for Sweden, which clinched top spot in Group A with a third consecutive shutout inside a raucous Scandinavium arena in Gothenburg, Sweden. Theo Lindstein had two assists.

Canada is second in the pool with six points from its three games.

“Fantastic,” Willander, a Vancouver Canucks prospect, said of the atmosphere. “Great aura. A great team we beat, too.”

“Important games in front of us,” added Havelid, who like Rousseau is undersized and undrafted. “Can’t think we’re too good.”

Both goaltenders said it was special to perform in front of Lundqvist, who is the latest inductee into Sweden’s Hockey Hall of Fame after getting the same nod on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in November.

“Watched him as a kid,” Havelid said. “Playing pretty good hockey in front of him, it meant something extra.”

About 3,500 Canadians have made the trek to this city on Sweden’s west coast, but the red-clad contingent was a loud minority inside an electric rink Friday.

“One of the coolest games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Canadian captain Fraser Minten, who played four times with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season.

“Goose bumps,” added Letang.

Sweden opened the scoring 1:53 into the second period after Matthew Poitras, who joined Canada from the Boston Bruins, couldn’t clear the defensive zone. The puck made its way to Willander, and he fired past Rousseau with defenceman Noah Warren screening his goaltender.

Rousseau did his best to keep the Canadians down one with a couple of huge stops, including one on Jonathan Lekkerimaki.

But the forward — another Vancouver draft pick — kept the puck in at the blue line on the same sequence and took a shot that Rousseau couldn’t squeeze before Ostlund slid the rebound home at 10:39.

Canada, which beat Sweden 5-1 on New Year’s Eve at the 2023 tournament, shook up its forward lines looking for a spark.

Matthew Savoie lost the puck on a breakaway before Macklin Celebrini, who entered as the event’s scoring leader with six points, was stopped on a one-timer in the dying seconds.

Willander and the 17-year-old Celebrini, who along with Savoie were not made available to reporters by Hockey Canada, are NCAA teammates at Boston University.

“The scoreboard speaks for itself,” Willander said with a grin when asked if he’d be texting the presumptive No. 1 pick at the 2024 NHL draft.

Canada got its first power play eight minutes into the third, but Celebrini hit the post before Havelid stopped Minten.

Owen Beck — the only Canadian returnee from last year — was then crunched into the boards by Sweden’s Zeb Forsfjall. The officials initially called a penalty, but overturned that decision following video review.

Extra-man struggles

Canada got another man advantage with under six minutes remaining, but the disjointed No. 1 unit again couldn’t find the range.

The Canadians were subsequently whistled for a botched goalie pull that ended up in a penalty for too many players on the ice that sealed Sweden’s win.

A physical first period saw the teams trade early chances, including a breakaway for Canada’s Carson Rehkopf.

Minten was assessed a double minor for high-sticking, but the penalty kill and Rousseau held firm, including that outstanding skate-blade save at full stretch on Liam Ohgren.

“Fun seeing him be impressed,” Rousseau said of Lundqvist’s reaction shown on the big screen. “A good moment.”

Canada will be hoping for many more as it looks to regroup.

“If you second-guess or you stop believing, that’s when you’re in trouble,” Letang said. “That group still believes.”

Canada meets Germany in its final round-robin game Sunday, while Sweden takes on Finland.

U.S. outlasts Czechs in shootout

Isaac Howard opened the scoring and added the shootout winner as the United States outlasted the Czech Republic 4-3 on Friday.

Howard beat Michael Hrabal in the seventh round of the tiebreaker. The Michigan State sophomore scored 1:12 into the game. At 3-0, the Americans are tied with Slovakia for the Group B lead with the teams set to meet Sunday in the round-robin finale.

Slovakia topped Norway 8-4 on Friday, with Servac Petrovsky and Dalibor Dvorsky each finishing with two goals and two assists.

Also, Finland beat Latvia 4-0. Noa Vali made 23 saves for the Finns (1-2).

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