Stopping the Americans 3-2 Tuesday gave Canada somewhat of a swagger. They used the extra boost of self-esteem to ice stubborn Switzerland 4-1 Thursday.
The Canadians have reached Saturday’s semifinals in the 38th IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in Malmö, Sweden against Finland (10:30 Pacific).
Griffin Reinhart (West Vancouver), Anthony Mantha (Longueuil, Que), Curtis Lazar of Vernon and Derrick Pouliot (Weyburn, Sask.) scored for Canada.
Lazar, a first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators last June, started Tuesday’s game against the U.S. on left wing before shifting to the right. On Wednesday, he was back on the right wing skating alongside centre Nic Petan (Delta) and Connor McDavid (Newmarket, Ont.) at practice.
Reinhart drew the assist on Lazar’s 3-1 goal versus the Swiss, even-strength at 4:11 of the second period. Mantha’s winner came on a penalty shot midway through the second.
Reinhart and Pouliot also recorded even-strength snipes. Nico Dunner replied for Switzerland, who have six players from the Canadian Hockey League.
Lazar, a third-year forward with the Western League Edmonton Oil Kings who turns 19 in February, netted what proved to be the winner against the U.S. as Canada topped Group A.
Lazar put Canada up 3-1 at 6:13 of the third period on a powerplay. Jonathan Drouin (Huberdeau, Que.), who drilled a shot off the post in the second period, and Pouliot drew assists.
McDavid broke open a 1-1 deadlock two minutes earlier at even strength. Bo Horvat (Rodney, Ont.) and Josh Morrisey (Calgary) earned helpers.
Riley Barber of the Americans and Petan swapped first-period snipes. Stefan Matteau pulled the U.S. within a goal with 2:45 remaining.
“There was a lot on the line and both teams came out flying and that pace continued the entire game,” Lazar told The Morning Star. “You could see how quickly the puck was being transitioned, and as a player, that really keeps you on your toes. We were confident going into the game. We knew that if we stuck with our game plan for the full 60 minutes that we could get the job done and that’s exactly what we did.”
The game marked the return of Reinhart from a four-game suspension incurred against the Americans in the semifinals of last year’s world juniors in Ufa, Russia. The New York Islander first-round pick played a solid game paired mostly with Matt Dumba (Calgary).
Said Lazar: “Having Griff back really helped out our overall game. You can just see how poised he is in all positions and he really did a great job of shutting down the Americans. It was great to see McDavid score as well. He was having a bit of a tough time but he is a heck of a player and that goal was huge for us. Hopefully that confidence will carry over into the quarterfinals. My goal, I just did my job, I went to the net and the guys did a great job of moving the puck around and Drouin made an incredible pass to me and all I had to do was find an opening. I was glad I could contribute with some offence.”
Lazar, who has 21 goals in 27 games with the Oil Kings this season, said Canada wasn’t about to treat the Swiss like tourists.
“This win gave us a lot of confidence no doubt.In saying that, we know the Swiss have a good club and that the intensity of the tournament picks up come the medal round. We are looking forward to the challenge. Playing those tight games early on in the tournament brought us closer together and has allowed us to handle those pressure situations pretty good.”
Lazar’s parents – Dave and Karen, of Vernon – are in Sweden but rarely see their son in person.
“We don’t get to see our parents that much. We had a great New Year’s dinner post-game tonight with them and knowing that they are here supporting me is great. I owe a lot to my parents and it’s special sharing this experience with them. I probably won’t get to see much of them until after the tournament as we have some business on the ice to take care of first. For New Years we didn’t do anything besides the dinner. We just hung out at the hotel and got some rest in preparation for our next game.”