All eyes will be on Team Canada as it takes on Finland in the Quarter-Final of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. The defending champions finished round-robin action with a 3-0-0-1 record, with their lone loss coming against Russia.
As Canada looks to advance to the Semi-Finals for the third-straight year, here are five standout players worth watching:
Big test for DiPietro
Michael DiPietro (Ottawa 67’s) came through the round robin relatively unscathed, posting wins against Denmark and Czech Republic before narrowly falling to Russia. Through the three contests, DiPietro allowed just three goals on 69 shots, good for a remarkable .957 save percentage.
The Quarter-Final will be the first do-or-die action for DiPietro this season, but it’s also familiar territory for the 19-year-old. Recently acquired from the Windsor Spitfires, DiPietro and his new teammates are a top contender for Ontario Hockey League and Memorial Cup championships this spring. DiPietro won the 2017 Memorial Cup while with Windsor.
On Wednesday, DiPietro is expected to go head-to-head with Finland’s Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. The Sudbury Wolves netminder ranks fifth – one back of DiPietro – at the world juniors with a .934 save rate across four appearances.
Maxime Comtois (Drummondville Voltigeurs) is leading by example and in the goals column.
The 19-year-old captain leads the Canadian squad with five goals through the round robin, including a four-goal outburst against Denmark in the tournament opener. That feat had only been pulled off four times previously at the world juniors, as Comtois now shares the distinction with Canadian Hockey League alumni Taylor Raddysh, Brayden Schenn, Simon Gagne, and Mario Lemieux.
Whether it’s putting up offense or agitating the opposition, Comtois came to play across all four of Canada’s round robin games. His rambunctious style will be needed as the team readies for Finland.
Leaning on Leason
Brett Leason no longer has a problem drawing eyeballs. The Prince Albert Raiders forward went unselected in the 2017 and 2018 NHL Entry Drafts, but the 19-year-old has done his part to grab the attention of scouts this season.
Leason leads the Raiders in all categories – goals, assists, and points – and sits third in Western Hockey League scoring with 64 points in 31 games. With Team Canada, he’s continued to flash his offensive ways, as he collected three goals and two assists across four round robin games, including the eventual game winner against Czech Republic.
“I’d like to say we saw this coming,” Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt told Michael Traikos of the Edmonton Journal. “We knew he was skilled. We knew he had a history of being a goal-scorer. But not like this. What can I say, sometimes the tumblers roll right. On some nights, it’s looked real easy for him.”
Morgan Frost (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) leads Canada in tournament scoring with seven points and has been a consistent offensive threat through the round robin.
The Philadelphia Flyers draft pick knows Team Canada will be out for redemption after closing out the round robin on a sour note in a loss to Russia. He’s also better aware of what to expect from the quarterfinal opponent after Canada fell 5-2 to Finland in pre-tournament action.
“It’s good that we played them and we kind of know what to expect now,” Frost told the Canadian Press. “We have a game plan going in and we just have to execute it.”
The pass from Glass
The lone Canadian to find the back of the net in the round-robin loss to Russia, Cody Glass (Portland Winterhawks) has found a home on Canada’s top line, centering captain Comtois and Mississauga Steelheads forward Owen Tippett.
The trio found early chemistry and carried it throughout the round robin, combining for 16 points in four games. Glass picked up four assists – plus a pair of goals – along the way, showcasing the sort of puck-distributing skill that made him a high first-round pick by the Vegas Golden Knights.
“I know I’m a playmaker,” Glass told CBC’s Gemma Karstens-Smith. “(Comtois and Tippett) can finish, so if I can get to them in the right areas, they’re going to bury it.”
For full coverage of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship visit IIHF.com and HockeyCanada.ca.