Canada-Swiss set to dance

Canada is undefeated in 19 U20 meetings

01.01.2014
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Canada's Anthony Mantha celebrates after scoring a goal against Germany. Photo: Francois Laplante / HHOF-IIHF Images

MALMÖ – Is there a Paul DiPietro in the Swiss lineup? If so, now is the time he needs to make his presence felt.

The Canadian-born DiPietro, of course, scored the only two goals in Switzerland’s shocking 2-0 win over Canada at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, and that’s the level of heroism the Swiss will need in Malmö to eliminate Canada from the 2014 World Juniors.

History says that the chances of that happening are, well, pretty close to zero.

Consider: Since the World Junior Championship started in 1977, the Swiss have never defeated Canada. Not even tied. In fact, they have a goals for-against record of 33-126 and only twice have they lost by one goal (in 1995 and 2005).

To make matters worse, Canada has improved significantly over the last few days, turning their weak performance against the Czechs (a 5-4 shootout loss) into an inspiring 4-3 win over Slovakia and then an emotional 3-2 win over the United States on New Year’s Eve.

Given the fact that Anthony Mantha was hardly considered the team’s offensive leader at training camp in early December, it’s something of a sensation that he is tied for the overall scoring lead with ten points and has had a hand in more than half his team’s 19 goals.

Mantha is not the best skater by any stretch, so he poses no threat outside the offensive blue line, but inside it he has a big reach and is very touch to knock off the puck or move from the front of the net. He also happens to have a nice pair of hands for passing, and has clicked nicely in the last couple of games with Nic Petan.

On the other hand, there are few players in the world under 20 who can stickhandle like Jonathan Drouin. He controls the puck as if he were born with a stick in his hand. As well, the late addition of defenceman Griffin Reinhart gives Canada another big and able blueliner.

The weakness on the team has been in goal, a problem that has plagued Canada for several years. Going back, the goalies who have turned in terrible performances at critical times is, unfortunately, lengthy: Jordan Binnington and Malcolm Subban (2013), Mark Visentin and Scott Wedgewood (2012), Visentin and Olivier Roy (2011), Jake Allen and Martin Jones (2010).

This year Jake Paterson played his way out of the starter’s role and Zachary Fucale, while not brilliant, has been in net the last two games, both come-from-behind wins and will likely start the rest of the way.

And the Swiss? Well, they were soundly beaten in their first two games and then eked out a 3-2 win over the weak Norwegians and defeated Finland 4-3 in a shootout when it didn’t matter much. They have scored only 11 goals in four games while allowing 17, third highest. They have more penalties than any other team.

Their top scorers are Sandro Zangger and Kevin Fiala, both with a goal and three assists. More telling, their defence has contributed only three goals and not a single assist.

Of course, we play the games for a reason, but the odds are stacked very high in Canada’s favour to advance to the semi-finals.

ANDREW PODNIEKS

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