Connor Bedard did not disappoint as Canada dropped Latvia 5-2 in their first game of the restarted world juniors after the tournament was shut down last December over COVID-19 concerns.
The WHL star notched a goal and an assist with a team-high eight shots in the outing, while Canada’s player of the game, Ridley Grieg, also tallied a goal and an assist.
Despite the score and the dramatic advantage in shots on goal, Canada looked fairly pedestrian during extended stretches, while Latvia proved to be tough sledding early on behind strong goaltending. At one point, Latvia even briefly managed to pull even after falling behind, a first for the nation in matchups against Canada.
Here are three things you need to know following Wednesday night’s tournament opener for Canada.
Dishonour for Connor is very real, folks, as Connor Bedard stole the show for Canada on Wednesday. Bedard was consistently among Canada’s most dangerous players on the ice, looking elusive with the puck and demonstrating strong edgework and hockey IQ.
His most impressive attribute, however, was unquestionably his rocket of a wrist shot. TSN’s broadcast duo of Gord Miller and Mike Johnson compared the 17-year-old’s release to Joe Sakic, and it isn’t hard to see why. Bedard's drag and release tally to break the ice for Canada was reminiscent of a right-handed Auston Matthews as he whizzed the puck past Latvian goaltender Patriks Berzins with exceptional velocity.
That drag and rip by Connor Bedard is something else 💦 pic.twitter.com/13a4EwGOKx
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) August 10, 2022
As was shared on the broadcast, Bedard is among the most prolific junior scorers in Canadian history already across his appearances representing Canada as a U18 and U20 player. In 14 games across the two tournaments, Bedard has scored a mind-bending 18 goals and 28 points, including a four-goal game during the postponed tournament last winter.
Needless to say, there are still parts of Bedard’s game he’ll have to work on as any player his age does, but seeing him work his magic against Latvia was extraordinarily exciting, and it’ll be fantastic to see how he elevates his game against the much tougher competition the other world junior powerhouses will provide later in the tourney.
Berzins went balls out
Latvian starting goaltender Patriks Berzins, who played in Latvia’s men’s pro circuit last season as an 18-year-old, channelled his inner Kristers Gudlevskis and stole the show for Latvia during long stretches of this one. Despite the enormous gap in skill between the two teams, Berzins was as steady as could be as Latvia was dramatically outplayed by Canada’s laundry list of NHL-bound prospects.
It's 1-1 after one despite Canada out-shooting Latvia 18-4. Impressive performance from Patriks Berzins in net for Latvia. They are competing all over the ice and are in the second half of a back-to-back. Can they sustain it? Probably not, but they will take that period.
— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) August 10, 2022
Berzins kept Latvia in the mix during a first period dictated by Canada and held Latvia in it until late in the second period when Canada rang off three quick goals on five shots. Despite that barrage, however, Berzins remained dialed in, including one dramatic save on a Canadian breakaway that saw the Latvian netminder stick out his right pad on a cross-crease attempt to shut the door and keep the game at 4-1.
His 39-save heroics were unsurprisingly not enough to will Latvia to victory, but his strong showing was well worth the admiration (and Latvia’s player of the game honours) despite the loss.
Good first impressions
Canada’s defence looks pretty different than it did during the winter edition of the 2022 tournament. 2021 first-overall selection Owen Power opted to forgo the tournament for Buffalo Sabres rookie camp while winter edition captain Kaiden Guhle is missing this tournament with an injury.
Despite that, the early returns on the new groups were overall positive, especially from an offensive perspective. Defencemen Lukas Cormier (VGK 3rd, ‘21) and Olen Zellweger (ANA 2nd, ‘21) both pitched in on the scoresheet with a goal each. Canada’s defensive play was also strong, albeit against a team that only qualified for this tournament due to the exclusion of a Belarusian team that originally qualified for promotion last fall.
That will probably leave Canada with some questions to come as the pace of the tournament ramps up and the competition gets more intense, but for now, getting contributions from a part of their lineup that had question marks is undoubtedly a big win.
Canada’s next test goes Thursday at 6:00 PM ET in a duel against Slovakia, who is without 2022 first overall selection Juraj Slafkovsky for the tournament.
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