Macklin Celebrini has never been an underdog too many times in her life.
The same is true whenever Canada takes the ice in an international tournament.
However, heading into the 2024 World Junior Hockey Championship, this powerhouse nation is not seen as a favorite to win, at least from the outside.
And it’s perfect for groups.
“We’re not really focused on that,” said Celebrini, a 17-year-old center from Vancouver who is expected to be taken No. 1 in June’s NHL draft. “That’s just an opinion. We’re looking forward to moving forward and proving who we are.”
This team lacks a lot of NHL-caliber talent, but it’s a team that showed potential in its final game before the tournament.
Canada, which has many returning players in the under-20 tournament, trailed the United States, which is seen as the favorite country to beat, 5-3 at the end of the second period on Saturday, but fought back in the final 20 minutes to force overtime. with six wins. -5 losses.
“The energy and crispness in the third period sparked something,” head coach Alain Letang said after Monday’s practice at Gothenburg’s Scandinavium Arena. “There was a moment in the second game where the bench got a little quiet and I looked at[assistant Sean Clouston]and thought, ‘There’s not much going on here.'” We have to address that. It didn’t.
“They came out with the energy and passion that we needed.”
Letang will be looking for more than that when Canada takes on Finland in the tournament opener on Tuesday (8:30 a.m. ET).
“They want to take shots, they want to attack the net,” he said of the Finns. “Our puck management is going to be huge. We can put pressure on the U.S. If we can put pressure on them, I think we can turn some pucks over and be successful.”
Celebrini said the final game against the Americans showed how much this group is capable of in the annual showcase.
“That’s what we’re focused on and trying to recreate,” he said. “But even when things don’t go our way, we have to find a way to win. Our group can do that.”
Canada captain Fraser Minten said the team is not paying attention to outside predictions.
“I don’t think we’re too worried about it, we haven’t even heard of it,” the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect said. “I believe we are right at the top. We should be right at the top as gold medal contenders.”
Meanwhile, Canada’s Matisse Rousseau won the race to start the net in Canada’s first game, ahead of Scott Ratzlaff and Samuel Saint-Hilaire.
“It’s a mainstay,” Letang said. “He came in and took the spot.”
The goaltender from Boisbriand, Kenya, was selected in the seventh round of the past two NHL drafts, but is looking forward to the opportunity to be in the spotlight.
“Growing up, you still can’t believe you’re here,” Rousseau said. “Now you’re here. You don’t fully grasp this moment, but it’s pretty amazing.”
The Canadian group includes Finns, host countries Sweden, Latvia and Germany. On the other side of the bracket are the United States, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Norway.
The Canadians have well-documented NHL roster absences, including Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli, but they got reinforcements by sending center Matthew Poitras from the Boston Bruins to the national team.
“I’m so excited,” said the 19-year-old from Brooklyn, Ont. “Hopefully I can just go to bed and not think too much about the game. I’m really ready.”
Letang saw a faster, more inspired Canada in the final tune-up.
Like it or not, he’s hoping for the same approach he took against Finland as the North Americans begin to climb towards a third straight title.
“In that room, we know what our identity is and how we want to play,” he said. “If you play like that, you’ll like the result.”
Minten, who suited up four times with the Leafs before returning to juniors after training camp, was named captain Sunday night.
“I’m happy to be recognized as a leader,” said the 19-year-old center from Vancouver. “I’m very proud and honored to be able to wear the ‘C’ mark here for Canada.”
build a bond
Celebrini said the group has grown closer since traveling to Europe after the selection camp in Oakville, Ont.
“This is what happens when you go on vacation together,” he said. “We needed to be a little family. We came together and made a great team.”
Letang is expected to play a key role on the blue line until defenseman Tristan Renaud, a top prospect with the Anaheim Ducks, comes down with a viral infection, forcing Canada to call in a replacement. He said that he is currently hospitalized.
“It’s not an ideal situation,” the coach said.
Renaud’s family is expected to arrive in Sweden soon, Letang said, adding that Renaud is feeling well and should be discharged from hospital within the next day or two.
“He’s in our heads,” Letang said. “He will be supportive.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 25, 2023.
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