Canada tops Sweden at men's world juniors to set up quarterfinal clash with Slovakia
Canadians finish 2nd in Group A behind Czech Republic
Connor Bedard added his name to New Year's Eve lore at the world junior hockey championship — and placed himself alongside one of the sport's most dominant forces in the process.
The 17-year-old phenom is doing plenty of dominating in his own right.
Bedard had four assists to tie Eric Lindros for Canada's all-time points record as the tournament hosts wrapped up preliminary round play with a convincing 5-1 victory over Sweden in Halifax on Saturday.
WATCH | Bedard continues to impress:
The presumptive first pick at the 2023 NHL draft has put up his 31 points in 13 total games, while Lindros registered the same in 21 contests.
Bedard is so dialed in that he didn't know matching the Hall of Famer was on the horizon.
Brennan Othmann, who had two goals for Canada, was asked to put Bedard's performance at the men's under-20 event into context as he continues to make it look easy.
And to be clear, it isn't.
"Crazy," Othmann said. "His confidence level, it's just through the roof right now. That's the key of this game — confidence, having a positive mindset. He's so easygoing. He takes everything at ease, and he's an outstanding hockey player.
"We're lucky to have him on our side wearing the Maple Leaf."
'We're playing a more complete game'
Joshua Roy, Tyson Hinds and Kevin Korchinski had the other goals for the Canadians, who scored three times in the opening 12 minutes to put Sweden on the ropes early. Thomas Milic made 22 saves.
"A hundred times better," Othmann said of his team's improvement since Monday. "We're playing a more complete game. We're back to that hard-nosed, grinding hockey which we need to play, especially later on in the short-term competition."
Ludvig Jansson replied for Sweden, which got 39 stops from Carl Lindbom.
Canada, which wore its black jerseys on New Year's Eve, will face Slovakia in Monday's quarterfinals, while Sweden is set to take on Finland. United States will face Germany, and the Czech Republic will play Switzerland in the other matchups.
NOW WITH TIMES! ⏰<a href="https://t.co/VmB4giNrdA">https://t.co/VmB4giNrdA</a> <a href="https://t.co/uz0TtHvJcQ">pic.twitter.com/uz0TtHvJcQ</a>—@IIHFHockey
Bedard, who wasn't shy about throwing his weight around against Sweden, leads this showcase with 18 points in four games, while his 14 career goals are tied with Jordan Eberle for Canada's all-time national record at the world juniors.
"He's going to be an outstanding NHL player in the future," Othmann said. "He's lighting this tournament up right now.
"It's a very hard tournament to light up."
New Year's Eve atmosphere
The first New Year's Eve game at the world juniors since the 2020 tournament, and Canada's first Dec. 31 victory on home soil in eight years, saw the hosts shot out of a cannon in front of an electric and well-lubricated crowd inside a sold-out Scotiabank Centre.
"It's special," Othmann said. "We grew up watching the world juniors as kids — watching the gold-medal game, New Year's Eve, Boxing Day."
Roy took a pass from Bedard and roofed his third goal just 57 seconds into the first before the Swedes took a penalty to send the Canadians and their lethal power play — which entered 11-for-16 — to work.
"Start was great," said head coach Dennis Williams. "For a team that hadn't given up a lot of goals, it was good to get on them early and fast — keep the crowd involved.
"Probably one of the loudest buildings I've been in... ever."
Canada went up 3-0 at 11:45 when Bedard and Logan Stankoven set up Tyson Hinds for his second.
"We were really good," Bedard said. "That's how we want to play. That first period was pretty dominating."
Ostpachuk assessed major, game misconduct
Canadian forward Zack Ostpachuk was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for kneeing moments later, opening the door for Sweden — which had absolutely nothing going on — to get on the board when Jansson scored his first at 16:21.
Milic made a terrific desperation left-pad save on Jonathan Lekkerimaki with five minutes left in the second before the goaltender and Canada's penalty killers survived a Swedish two-man advantage for 53 seconds.
"It was everything I dreamed of," Milic said of playing for his country on New Year's Eve. "And more."
WATCH l Milic denies Lekkerimaki:
Othmann put things out of reach 35 seconds into the third when he scored his second of the night.
"Every game is another memory for all of us," Bedard said moments after being showered with M-V-P chants by the adoring crowd. "Just to have that support, it's been unreal, and tonight it was even better.
"I'm sure going into the playoff games — do-or-die — it'll be pretty electric."
Same as whenever Bedard has the puck on his stick.
Canada looks ahead to Slovakia
Canada beat Slovakia 6-1 in pre-tournament play, but Othmann said Canada won't be taking Monday's opposition lightly.
"They're big, they're fast, they're strong," said the New York Rangers prospect. "They're still dangerous. They've got some very good players."
Canadian forward Colton Dach didn't return after suffering an apparent right shoulder injury early in the third period.
Williams didn't provide an update post-game.
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