Curtis Lazar tries to get Connor McDavid to smile
Team Canada captain Curtis Lazar is living his dream out on the ice. (Perry Mah/QMI Agency)
Perhaps Connor McDavid could borrow from Curtis Lazar’s philosophy.
Both are supremely talented hockey players, but where Lazar is known for his happy outlook and the clear sense he is enjoying himself, McDavid doesn’t give the impression he is enjoying this world junior experience much.
Certainly not when he speaks to reporters, as McDavid is loathe to crack a smile, though the 17-year-old is not exactly being grilled in post-game scrums.
Lazar, Canada’s captain, is the opposite.
“These experiences, playing in the world junior, winning the Memorial Cup, the NHL and all that, it is all special to me,” Lazar, on loan to Canada from the Ottawa Senators, said on Sunday.
“It is what I worked toward, my lifetime goals, and to achieve them, why not smile and enjoy it?”
It’s understood that McDavid puts a lot on his own shoulders and with all the scrutiny that comes with the 2015 NHL draft, there is much pressure from the outside. Unless he suffers a serious career-threatening injury, McDavid will be the top pick and will have a long and successful NHL career. Hockey players across the country would gladly take that opportunity.
“I just try to crack some jokes with him,” Lazar said. “I don’t think I am that funny around him, just grounds me once in a while. He is a special player, and that is what I tell him, the main thing is just to relax and have fun.
“There is so much pressure on him, you see what he is going through, himself and (Jack) Eichel (of the United States) and it’s a big year for them. My draft year was nothing compared to what they are going through, but just enjoy it. It only comes around once in a lifetime.”
Goaltender Zach Fucale and his teammates could make a bit of history against Finland on Monday, as Canada never has started the world junior with three consecutive shutouts. The expectation is the Finns will pose a much greater challenge than Slovakia (an 8-0 Canada win) or Germany (a 4-0 Canada victory). Certainly, Finland will play a structured game, and will be quick in transition if Canada makes mistakes. “They are very good at blocking the middle of the ice and taking your time and space away,” Canada head coach Benoit Groulx said. “It’s going to be a matter of us to managing the puck well and making sure we put ourselves in position to use our speed, and be hard defensively.” ... Finland has eight players from the team that won gold in the world junior a year ago, but has scored just two goals in two games, losing both. A loss against Canada and Finland would have to beat Germany on New Year’s Eve to ensure it will not play in the relegation round. “They are going to be coming at us,” Lazar said. “Probably do or die for them and they really need to take a step in the right direction.” ... Fucale’s reaction to being told he would get the start? “Happy and excited,” Fucale said. “We all want to stay loose, but we also want to stay focused on what we want to do. We’re confident in the way we are playing right now.” ... The question remains whether Fucale has the No. 1 spot sewn up. It would appear that way, but Groulx was not ready to say as much. The benefit for the coaching staff is Fucale and Eric Comrie both are capable. In the past, Canada has had a goalie who was the obvious backup with no chance of playing in games that were important. That’s not the case with Comrie ... An example of Canada’s forward depth: Nic Petan, the third-line centre, was leading the tournament in scoring with six points.
FROM THE HASH MARKS
Frederik Gauthier, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, led the tournament in faceoff-winning percentage before Sunday’s games. Gauthier has won 16 of the 19 draws he has taken for an 84.2% success rate. He went 10-0 at the dot in the victory against Germany and was crucial as Canada killed six penalties. “I like the attitude of our penalty killers and certainly Freddy was one of them,” Groulx said ... Sam Reinhart, a future key piece for the Buffalo Sabres, has taken a team-high 33 faceoffs and won 23 of them ... Groulx, after the game versus Germany, wasn’t thrilled with Canada’s path to the penalty box. The message apparently got through to the players, but we will know for sure once the puck drops against the Finns. “The Canadian Hockey League, for me, is different,” said Jake Virtanen, echoing the thoughts of just about every player who has experienced officiating in both the CHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation. “Couple of weak calls, in my mind. We have to keep it safe.” ... Virtanen’s father Rainer is a native of Finland, but the Canadian forward wasn’t expecting any conflicts in his family. For the most part. “My grandpa gets a little nervous when we play Finland but I am looking forward to doing it,” Virtanen said. “He has a little mixed feelings, he has a soft spot for them, but he lives (in Canada), so I think he is for Canada all the way.”