Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
HALIFAX — Dylan Guenther agrees that elite players use all the tools at their disposal. He is one of those.
It’s when talent wanders off the team structure that problems can arise.
Canada tried two “Michigan” type maneuvers in the opening minutes of an awkward 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Czech Republic on Monday, opening the curtain of the World Junior Hockey Championship.
Adam Fantilli and Connor Bedard grabbed the puck on their stick blades from behind the net in an attempt to beat goaltender Tomas Suchanek on the short side.
At the time, Guenther saw nothing wrong with these two sequences.
What they did illustrate, however, was how far the Canadiens have strayed from their tough identity and game plan to go along with their high-level talent, against an opponent who hadn’t won on a regular basis against tournament favorites in their last 23 encounters.
“We’re not going to get to the final with ‘Michigan’ type moves,” Guenther said Tuesday. We try it often. It’s a talent move, but I think our game is leaning towards that right now. We try to use our talent to win. We try the spoon, to beat guys one on one.
One of three players loaned to Canada by an NHL team, the Arizona Coyotes forward speaks from a position of authority.
“You have to play the right way,” said Guenther, who has 11 points in 21 NHL games this season. We have to play together as a team. It starts with the simple side of the sport, winning battles. Our talent, there is no problem. This is the level of competition.
Canada head coach Dennis Williams has no problem with the generation of very talented players who attempt bold plays, as long as the timing is right.
“I wish we had done a better job of getting in front of the net, in the tough spots and focusing on how we want to play,” he said. We were on the periphery and to go there with a ‘Michigan’ type move, sometimes there are better plays to be made.”
Canadian striker Logan Stankoven does not have this maneuver in mind in the heat of the moment.
“It’s great to see the sport evolve,” insisted the Dallas Stars prospect. When we need a goal or when the game is tight, maybe it’s not the time.
Bedard, who is tipped to be the first overall pick in the 2023 draft, also tried the maneuver during the preseason calendar. Fantilli, who is considered a top-5 pick, pulled off the move made popular by University of Michigan Wolverines forward Mike Legg in 1996.
“Some people think it’s an individual game, others think it’s a good opportunity to score from behind the net,” said Fantilli, who is in his first season with the Wolverines. There is a limit to the number of times you can attempt the maneuver in a match or during the tournament. It can become a good opportunity to score, but sometimes you have to be able to make the right play.
An unruly and scrappy Canada did little against the Czechs on a humiliating night in front of the first Maritimers at the World Juniors in two decades.
“It doesn’t define us,” said Williams, whose team had scheduled an off-ice day Tuesday. It could be the best thing that can happen to our group. We have to compete, we have to fight, we have to manage the pucks, we have to be physical, we have to stay out of the penalty box. I hope the players will accept our challenge.”
Canada has opted for the same offensive lines since the cuts after selection camp, but Williams said there will be changes when his team faces Germany on Wednesday.
Thomas Milic will get the start in goal after stopping the 10 shots he faced on Monday, relieving Benjamin Gaudreau.
“I’m very excited,” said Milic. It’s something every goalkeeper dreams of.”
Although there was much misfortune and sadness on the part of Canadian fans, the sun rose again on Tuesday, in the cloudy city of Halifax.
Guenther saw something positive in it.
“First and foremost, it’s not like us,” he said of the debacle against Czechia. It’s not who we are. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. These are things we should do every day. We have to restart the machine.”