International Ice Hockey Federation

Classic cross-border clash

Classic cross-border clash

McDavid vs. Eichel only part of NYE story

Published 31.12.2014 10:13 GMT-5 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Classic cross-border clash
Canada defeated the Americans 3-2 when these two rivals met on New Year's Eve at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden. Photo: Francois Laplante / HHOF-IIHF Images
At least two people know that the Canada-U.S. game on New Year’s Eve won’t be a showdown between Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Who are these sages?

Their names are Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.

And hey, we shouldn’t be surprised. The two flashy young centres are smart enough to be in contention for the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. They’re also smart enough to realize that the December 31 battle at Montreal’s Bell Centre is not a top prospects game where the primary goal is to impress scouts – and maybe to start lining up some more endorsement deals in advance.

“I’m not too worried about him right now, and I’m sure he’s not too worried about me,” said Eichel, the American captain. “There’s a lot bigger battle going on here. It’s the United States versus Canada for the top seed in our bracket.”

“It’s Canada versus the States, it’s not me versus him,” added McDavid, who has 51 points in just 18 OHL games this year. “It’s a big game for both teams.”

This isn’t just deflecting the spotlight from themselves. This is reality. Remember, Eichel is 18, and McDavid is 17. With rare exceptions, the IIHF World Junior Championship is a tournament dominated by and won by 19-year-olds.

Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin both captured World Junior gold medals when they were under 19, but neither won the overall scoring race or made the tournament all-star teams then. And both McDavid and Eichel have a long way to go before they can reasonably be mentioned in the same breath as those two guys.

At this tournament, both the Erie Otters star and the Boston University prodigy have played well, but neither has been brilliant.

Eichel has two points, but he’s also been guilty of some bad giveaways and his team-high 6 PIM shows he needs to handle himself a little more carefully.

The go-to offensive line for the Americans has been Dylan Larkin, Hudson Fasching, and Sonny Milano.

“I think we all complement each other pretty well,” said Larkin, the University of Michigan centre who leads the U.S. with five points. “It’s easy to play with their size, skill and speed. Hudson Fasching works really hard and creates a lot of ice. And Sonny’s so creative. He’ll find you. It’s a lot of fun playing with those guys.”

Meanwhile, McDavid is at three points, but he’s been overshadowed offensively by several of his Canadian teammates, including the top line of Anthony Duclair, Sam Reinhart, and Max Domi. Not to mention super-slick playmaker Nic Petan (6 points).

“Everyone’s playing solid defensively and creating offence,” said Reinhart. “It’s easy to carry momentum through the lineup, and that’s what needed.”

Going back to Eichel’s PIM again, the Americans will need to stay out of the penalty box, as Canada owns the tournament’s top power play, clicking at 50 percent so far. That said, prior to December 31, the U.S. was tied with Sweden as the least penalized nation, with just 22 PIM.

Canada has two aces in the faceoff circle whom the Americans will be hard-pressed to match: Frederik Gauthier, vying for the tournament lead at a whopping 76.6 percent, and captain Curtis Lazar, not far behind at 73.3 percent.

So far, there is little to choose between the two cross-border rivals in the goaltending department. Both countries held Finland, the defending champion, to just one goal in their victories (2-1 for the Americans in a shootout, 4-1 for Canada).

Canada would seem to have the edge in goaltending experience, with Zach Fucale returning for the second straight year. But coach Benoit Groulx has opted to go with Eric Comrie on New Year’s Eve instead. Comrie looked solid making 17 saves in his lone start, a 4-0 shutout versus Germany.

Being the home team comes with one definite advantage.

“I think the crowd is going to be a big factor,” Larkin admitted. “It’s going to be a sea of red. We haven’t been playing in front of that large crowds. Canada has. We’re going to have to control that. There’ll be a few shifts where the nerves are going. We’re going to have to play well defensively.”

So what’s the take-away for those who are still principally concerned with which name will be called out first at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida on June 26, 2015?

Let’s put it this way: money can’t buy you happiness. And McDavid and Eichel would both be much happier with using a New Year’s Eve win over a traditional archrival as a stepping stone to a World Junior gold medal.

Just ask Taylor Hall, for instance. As the star left wing of the Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires, he took part in Canada’s 5-4 World Junior shootout win over the Americans on December 31, 2009. That was great.

Losing 6-5 in overtime to the Americans five days later, however, was painful.

Then Hall was taken first overall in 2010 by the Edmonton Oilers. But his subsequent hockey life hasn’t been a picnic. Sure, Hall currently enjoys a seven-year, $42-million contract. But he hasn’t made the NHL playoffs or won anything internationally since his World Junior experience. It’s not exactly a happy time to be in northern Alberta.

For McDavid, Eichel, and their respective teammates, it’s time to relish the moment in Montreal.

“We’re really excited,” said Eichel. “New Year’s Eve, we watched this game growing up, and to get to participate in it at the Bell Centre, it’s going to be a great show.”

Much like the signing bonus for a #1 overall NHL draft pick, you can take that statement to the bank.


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