The final round robin game of the 2016 World Juniors saw two Flames prospects pitted against one another… kind of. While Brandon Hickey and Adam Ollas Mattsson were certainly playing against one another, both are defenders used, well, defensively, so the chances of them actually having to defend against one another were pretty small.
(Although Ollas Mattsson did take a shot from the point while Hickey was back defending, and the reverse happened later in the game, so it kind of happened, if only for a few moments.)
Neither Sweden nor Canada had anything to play for but pride, with the former having won Group A, and the latter locked into third place. That didn’t stop the game from getting emotional, though.
Sweden 5-2 Canada
Confidence begets confidence. Sweden has no doubt had the superior performance so far these World Juniors, particularly considering how they went into the game perfect, but you could tell they were feeling it. Maybe that was because of the quick two power play goals they scored, and Canada’s inability to score on their own power play – which has not been new this tournament – but Sweden was simply doing more.
It was even apparent when boiling the game down to the two Flames prospects. Looking at their stats from outside the tournament, if there’s any player you’d expect to be on the scoreboard, it would be Hickey. He has five goals and seven points through 16 games in the NCAA this season, while Ollas Mattsson has just one goal and four points through 22 games in Sweden.
And yet, it’s been Ollas Mattsson on the scoreboard this tournament. Not this game, but through four round robin games, he had a goal and an assist, whereas Hickey had nothing.
And in this game, Ollas Mattsson was the one jumping up into the play often. He ventured further into the offensive zone than Hickey ever really did, and he even had a bit of power play time, albeit at the end of the two minutes when Sweden was back in their own zone. Still – it’s more than Hickey has had all tournament thus far.
Both players were utilized on the penalty kill, though. There was a key difference I noted early on, right before Sweden got their first goal of the game. The Swedes rushed Hickey’s side of the ice on the first kill (it wasn’t targeting Hickey specifically, they rushed that side later when a different unit was on), forcing a mini two-on-one of sorts against him that resulted in a shot, which resulted in a huge rebound from Mackenzie Blackwood, which resulted in a Swedish goal. Hickey allowed the initial zone entry, but was very much outmanned.
Contrast that to Ollas Mattsson staring down Mitch Marner on Sweden’s first penalty kill, in which Marner had no choice but to pretty much skate right into him, effectively taking him out of the play. Canada couldn’t properly gain the zone for the rest of their power play after that.
While both players were used frequently on the penalty kill, they each took penalties of their own as well. Hickey’s was an IIHF penalty, which is to say, “technically it was a penalty but seriously, you called that? Really?” in the form of a simple crosscheck (which actually gave the Swedes a lengthy five-on-three, so, not ideal, but seriously: IIHF), while Ollas Mattsson’s infraction was much more egregious.
One-on-one against Travis Konecny, Ollas Mattsson took away his prime shooting lane. Konecny still got the shot off, but it was an easy save for Linus Soderstrom. Then, Konecny kind of nudged into Ollas Mattsson a little. Ollas Mattsson took exception to that, so he put his hand on top of Konecny’s head – he didn’t even have to reach because the Swede is really, really huge – and literally forced him down to the ice.
So yeah, that’s a penalty in any league. It was a moment of lost composure, but also a reminder that this guy is a physical monster.
Ollas Mattson’s no-goals-against streak did come to an end, as he was on the ice for both of Canada’s goals, though neither could be blamed on him. The first was due to a massive rebound from Soderstrom that went to the other side of the ice; it wasn’t him whom Mitchell Stephens had to beat to the puck to score. And the second came just seconds into a five-on-three, so there was pretty much nothing he could have done there. (Although: it’s great to know Sweden trusts him enough he’s one of the guys they send out to kill a five-on-three.)
But ultimately, to me, it looked like Ollas Mattsson was playing with far more confidence. He looked far more active than Hickey did, helped create at least one really dangerous chance with a nice feed into the offensive zone that only Blackwood ended up foiling with an impressive save.
But Ollas Mattsson doesn’t have Hickey’s skating ability or smarts. Hickey simply looks, and projects, to be the better prospect due to those factors, which aren’t entirely being showcased this tournament.
What we have here are two defenders being used exclusively in defensive roles, except it looks like the Swedish kid is getting more of a chance, and he’s working with it.
It’s elimination time. Win, or go home, starting on Jan. 2.
Team Sweden, the number one seed in Group A, will play Team Slovakia, the number four seed in Group B, at 7 a.m. MT. Then Team Canada, the number three seed in Group A, will play the home Team Finland, the number two seed in Group B, at 9 a.m. MT.
Finland is currently leading the tournament in goals with 23 over the round robin, so Canada is going to need their best in net. At this point, I’m not sure who between Mackenzie Blackwood and Mason McDonald is going to get the start for Canada’s first sudden death game.
Based on play outside this tournament, Blackwood has the better numbers, but neither really established himself as the better option through the round robin. Against Sweden, Blackwood was primarily victimized by the power play; but it’s not as though much of what went against McDonald in his round robin games was his fault, either, as both another victim of the power play – and his own teammates apparently conspiring to score against him, for some reason.
Both goalies age out of the tournament this year (or technically next year, because 2016), so age won’t be a factor. McDonald gave up five combined goals to the U.S. and Danes, while Blackwood gave up six to the Swedes and Swiss. It’s tight.