EDMONTON — The win means nothing. But the loss?
Ooooh, it could be a killer.
Team Canada captain Kirby Dach left Canada’s only pre-tournament game at the 2021 World Juniors midway through the third period after a harmless looking collision with a Russian player. Canada won the game, 1-0, on a goal by defenceman Jamie Drysdale, but now may have lost its best player and captain.
“We don’t have an update. We will need an x-ray later on,” Canadian head coach Andre Tourigny said in his postgame address.
The injury cast a pall on the victory, a game in which Dach had been dominant.
“He really tries to bring everyone into the fight, play the right way,” Tourigny noted. “He does not force things — he’s the ultimate team player out there.”
In a tournament that is completed inside two weeks, it is entirely possible that Canada would not include its captain on its final roster, to be submitted on Friday. They can not, however, replace Dach with a player who is not already residing inside the Edmonton bubble.
“That’s why you have 25 players,” Tourigny said. “If you could, the Germans would have brought in a lot of players. If they can’t, we can’t.”
You’ve seen the video by now: Dach instigates a small collision with Russian forward Ilya Safonov. Dach bounces off the hit, turns away and immediately removes his right glove to look at his wrist and hand area. He spins and goes straight to the bench, and right down the hallway to the Team Canada dressing room. The trip ended on the X-ray table at Rogers Place.
“You don’t like to see it,” Drysdale said. “He’s one of our teammates, one of your brothers. He’s a really special player, an important guy in the locker room. He’s really talkative, a guy you can lean on. A special player. We just hope for a speedy recovery from whatever it is. Hopefully all is good and he can get back on the ice.”
Levi at the Helm
OK — now some good news.
After the morning skate Tourigny announced that Devin Levi would be his No. 1 goalie, Dylan Garland would be the backup, and Calgary native Taylor Gauthier would be the No. 3. Levi went the distance Wednesday for a 23-save shutout.
Levi, who plays at Northeastern University, was awestruck to be in the Canadian crease, even though he looked cool as a cucumber.
“As a kid I always pictured myself playing in this tournament, and here it was, coming true,” said the Canadian goalie, who stopped Yegor Chinakhov on a third-period break, his toughest save of a relatively easy game. “It was a partial breakaway. The read I made was he was going to shoot it, and he did. He didn’t have enough time to make a deke because one of our D was on him.”
Levi didn’t see much action but was in total control when the Russians pressed.
“What I liked about his game,” Tourigny said, “was that he was composed, confident. He did not make it look tougher than it was. He was in control. Did not complicate his game, and made our team play with confidence.”
No Question About Askarov
Canada was excellent defensively, giving up almost nothing despite the fact most of these kids haven’t played a real game in months. Most of the Russian players are playing in leagues back home, and as a team they travelled to Finland and won the Karjala Cup earlier this winter.
“What I saw was, the effort was there but the technical part of the game was straggling,” Russian head coach Igor Larionov said. “That’s what (pre-tournament) games are for. It’s not the best hockey, but I am pleased with the way we played.
“Our game is based on puck possession and attacking. We should be better. We’re going to be better.”
The one thing this Russian team may well have is the best goalie in the tournament in returning netminder Yaroslav Askarov. The six-foot-four Nashville draftee shut Canada out through 40 minutes, before Drysdale drifted a long wrister past backup Artur Akhtyamov in the third period.
“We’re pleased with the way he’s developed,” Larionov said of Askarov. “It’s nice to have a goalie like that, who can make the crucial saves, be solid the whole game, and give us some confidence.
“Askarov played fantastic for us, but we expect more from the boys and they know that. We can play much better.”
After the morning skate, Dach was talking about how things have changed for him at Rogers Place, where he was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks team that eliminated the Edmonton Oilers before losing out to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL playoffs. Dach was the youngest member of the Chicago Blackhawks, playing under captain — and legendary World Junior performer — Jonathan Toews.
“Yes,” admitted Dach. “ Last time I was walkin’ in here I was the young guy on the team, looking up to great leaders like Toews, (Patrick) Kane, Duncs (Duncan Keith) and Crow (Corey Crawford) … Now I’m expected to lead this group, but I’m not doing it alone. There are other guys who are great leaders.”
We’ll see when or if Dach returns, but if he does his role as captain will have been influenced by the time he spent around Toews.
“He kind of knows what to say — and how to say it — at important times in games, and in the dressing room,” Dach said. “I have that confidence, being around my own age group, to say those things. Whereas in Chicago I didn’t have the confidence to speak up in the dressing room. That comes with maturity.
“I feel pretty confident right now, and when there’s a moment like that when something needs to be said, I’m not going to be afraid to say it.”
He can only hope.