Medals in sight for WHL players at World U-17 Hockey Challenge

Matthew Murnaghan / Hockey Canada Images


Three days at 12 games later, the round-robin portion of the 2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C. has wrapped up.

With 23 WHL players, including all three Canadian team captains, gaining international experience, they’ll head into the quarter-finals Thursday with a chance to make good on their medal aspirations.

Canada Black (2-1-0-0)
Canada Black started the tournament with a 1-0 shutout over Canada White Sunday in Dawson Creek, B.C., led by a 28-save shutout by Nolan Maier (Saskatoon Blades). The team’s lone goal came near the midway mark of the first period as was assisted on by Kaedan Korczak (Kelowna Rockets).

Monday, Roman Basran (Kelowna Rockets) recorded a shutout of his own, making 24 saves in Canada Black’s 5-0 victory over the Czech Republic. Kirby Dach (Saskatoon Blades) picked up a secondary assist on Canada’s first goal while Matthew Robertson (Edmonton Oil Kings) also added an assist in the final goal as part of a three-goal second period for Canada. In the third, captain Sasha Mutala (Tri-City Americans) tallied the team’s fourth goal while Robertson added a late power play goal, with Dach collecting an assist.

Canada Black’s toughest contest of the round-robin came in their finale as they were edged 5-4 by the United States. Nolan Maier faced 48 shots, stopping 43 of them as Canada was handed their first loss of the tournament. Mutala scored his second of the tournament in the later stages of the opening period, with Robertson and Dach drawing assists on the power play goal for the team’s first all-WHL goal of the tournament.

“In the third period they started building momentum and guys started losing energy,” Mutala said. “Once we got our energy back guys played great, but for five or 10 minutes we just didn’t have the jump we needed and they took advantage. It was a tight one, there’s nothing we can do about it, so we’ll put it behind us and focus on the medal round.”

Early in the second, Dach scored his first of the tournament on the power play, with Massimo Rizzo (Kamloops Blazers) picking up an assist. Down 5-3 late in the third, Canada Black made the game close with the help of WHL talent. Rizzo and Dach each picked up assists on the team’s third goal, but Canada would eventually fall short by a single goal.

Canada White (1-1-1-0)
After starting off their tournament with a pair of losses, Canada White found their way into the win column Tuesday.

A 1-0 shutout at the hands of Canada Black featured an all-WHL goaltender battle with Taylor Gauthier (Prince George Cougars) going save-for-save with Maier. Gauthier would end up with 28 saves in the contest, his lone allowed goal proving to be the difference in the game.

I thought we played a pretty solid all-around game,” Gauthier said. “We had a few hiccups but it’s the first game of the tournament and we knew coming in this would probably be one of our toughest competitors and they pushed us right to the limit.

“We were one bounce away from tying it up and going to overtime, but that’s how the puck bounces sometimes.”

Canada White put up a strong fight in Monday’s game against the United States, but fell 4-3 in overtime, collecting a point from the contest. Logan Barlage (Swift Current Broncos) put Canada up 2-0 in the second period for his first of the tournament. With their lead cut to one, WHL players helped keep Canada in a comfy position as Alex Swetlikoff (Seattle Thunderbirds) and Connor Bouchard (Tri-City Americans) assisted on their team’s third goal of the game.

Searching for their first win of the tournament in their final round-robin contest, Canada White found what they were looking for in a battle against the Czech Republic, which Canada won by a 7-2 margin. Gauthier led the way with 25 saves in net for Canada White, picking up the victory in his second start, while WHL players contributed to the lopsided victory.

With 5:33 remaining in the second period and Canada up 2-0, Jake Lee (Seattle Thunderbirds) tallied a power play goal that would end up counting a the game-winner. The icing on the cake came courtesy of captain Braden Schneider (Brandon Wheat Kings), who scored a late third period goal to round out Canada’s scoring in the game.

Canada Red (1-2-0-0)
Though they only ended up with one victory from the round-robin, Canada Red was in all three games throughout the first stage of the tournament against quality competition.

In their opening game of the tournament, Canada Red dropped a 4-2 decision to Finland, where the game was a tight one-goal battle until the final two minutes of the contest. Canada’s second goal of the tournament came via captain Peyton Krebs (Kootenay ICE).

Monday’s game saw Canada win big against defending champion Sweden by a 7-2 final. WHL Rookie of the Month Dylan Cozens (Lethbridge Hurricanes) opened the scoring in Monday’s game with a power play goal 6:57 into the first period. As part of a four-goal second period, Bowen Byram (Vancouver Giants) picked up a primary assist on Canada’s fifth goal of the game. Cozens would collect his second point of the game in the third period, picking up a primary assist on Canada’s seventh and final goal.

In Tuesday’s final round-robin game against Russia, Canada stormed out to a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes, but were unable to hold off the defending bronze medalists. Byram picked up the lone assist on Canada’s second goal of the game.

“It was a fun game to be a part of; the Russians put together a good team and it was a gritty game,” Krebs said. “There were times in the game where we weren’t at our best. In terms of our game plan, we did a lot of great things, but we also have a lot of things we can improve on – we’ll take those into the quarter finals and we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“In these types of tournaments you want to improve every game. Obviously it wasn’t the result we wanted but it was definitely a step ahead in our tournament. Any match-up we’re going to be at our best, it’s going to be fun and we’re going to be ready to go in the quarter-finals.”

Quarter-final matchups set
With the round-robin completed, Thursday’s games will see all eight teams battle for spots in Friday’s semi-finals.

Canada White will face-off against Finland Thursday at the North Peace Arena in Fort St. John, B.C. while the second all-Canadian matchup of the tournament will feature Canada Red and Canada Black battling at the Encana Events Centre for a semifinal spot.

The two other quarter-finals will see the Czech Republic face Russia while Sweden and the United States will meet as well.

TSN and RDS, the official broadcasters of Hockey Canada, will air the semifinal from Dawson Creek and the bronze- and gold-medal games; please check local listings for details.

More than 1,600 NHL draft picks have suited up since the inception of the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 1986 (previously known as the Quebec Esso Cup), including 13 of the last 16 first-overall draft picks (Ilya Kovalchuk, 2001; Rick Nash, 2002; Marc-André Fleury, 2003; Alexander Ovechkin, 2004; Erik Johnson, 2006, Patrick Kane, 2007; John Tavares, 2009; Taylor Hall, 2010, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 2011; Nathan MacKinnon, 2013; Aaron Ekblad, 2014; Connor McDavid, 2015 and Auston Matthews, 2016).

For more information on the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, please visit or follow along via social media on Facebook and Twitter.

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