Edmonton – There’s just something about a defenseman like Owen Powers that makes hockey guys go crazy. Something that screams pillar, or building block. A player on whom the entire franchise can be balanced. One that even Buffalo Sabers can’t screw up.
A great young world junior goalkeeper? We’ve seen many of them star here at the WJC, but then fail to step out to the next level. There are two or three Jeff Glasses for each Roberto Luongo, one Zach Fukle and one Justin Poge for each Kerry Price.
Elite forward like Mason McTavish? Hey, don’t get me wrong. The Anaheim Ducks aren’t complaining about adding this year’s phenom to a team at WJC that also includes Trevor Zegrass, who was the same thing here a year ago.
However, the power is different. Guards are different.
In a world where power doesn’t make 1,000-games, a 25-minute defenseman in the NHL is, clearly, no one right now.
That’s Chris Pronger. That’s Alex Pietrangelo.
1 defenseman who will one day set the pace of NHL games like Larry Robinson or Brad Parks.
Next game: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. ET vs. Austria pic.twitter.com/hiD5U1G7mF
— Team Canada (@TeamCanada) December 27, 2021
“Passing, skating, shooting, it speaks for itself. It’s elite,” said Team Canada head coach Dave Cameron, becoming the first Canadian defenseman to achieve a world junior hat-trick in a 6-3 victory over Power Czechia. But this is his peace. That’s the perfect balance it brings. He’s even been able to reverse it, and he’s done it at the Worlds, he’s done it in Michigan, and he’s done it now at the World Juniors.
“The ability to play that high-performing game with calmness. I’m not sure you can teach that.”
The Combination of Power’s property is not described in any text book, or mapped out in any coaching exercise.
Can you teach six foot five and 214 pounds? Can you teach a stride like Darnell Nurse, or go puck-handling with a 750-game NHL legend? In Power’s first game at World Juniors, he scored three times, shot six on goal and played 21:48, all game highs.
Think of all the great defenders who have pulled the Team Canada sweater over their heads this tournament, from Shia Webber to Scott Niedermayer, from Larry Murphy to Duncan Keith. No one has taken a hat-trick in this tournament and Power has done so in his first game.
Owen Power! hat-trick pic.twitter.com/640sJQuc30
— michigan hockey (@umichhockey) December 27, 2021
“I was quite surprised. A lot of good players have come and play in these tournaments. I didn’t know anyone didn’t have a hat-trick,” he said after the game. “It’s my first hat-trick ever. To do this on this platform and wear the Canadian jersey is very special.
This would be Power’s last season at the University of Michigan, before joining a team at Buffalo that has had several swings at the proverbial “first overall draft” plate as the club calls Rogers Place home. He could cycle through Beijing – it’s hard to imagine a collection of non-NHL Canadian players, among whom 19-year-old Power wouldn’t be his best blue-liner.
“He came in as advertised. His chivalry with the puck, he has a real low panic threshold. He can protect the puck…” Cameron began. “To compare to Chris Pronger, Chris had that average streak. I don’t see Owen going to that level. I coached against the world junior team, and there was Pietrangelo, and I see a lot of similarities there. . That ability to survive under pressure.”
Speaking of which, it was as close as Canada came to avoid a serious test by Czechia in the long run, with Cameroon being forced to use an early timeout when Czechia went 3-1 to 12 in the game. :23 onwards.
It’s getting interesting here in Edmonton, as the Czechs go up 3-1 and Canada is calling a time out.
Canada was not challenged like this by check. Will prepare for a better game.
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) December 27, 2021
Canada was not behind even a second until the gold medal game at last year’s World Juniors. In Game 1 this season, the Czechs scored three goals in the same period against the Canadians, a first for Czechia in WJC history.
“That timeout was huge,” Power said. “It calmed us down, and we did a better job of putting people in front of us. Not trying to coerce anything and deceive us of guilt.”
Cameron is a veteran of these things – this is his fourth tournament behind the Canadian bench as an assistant or head coach.
“One of the things we discussed throughout the week as a coaching staff was we didn’t know what to expect in the first 10 minutes,” he said. “We played one game, they didn’t play any. We knew it was going to be a bit of a thrill. Junior hockey at its best.”
Good News? Many times, the first adversity Canada faces doesn’t come until the medal round—when a failure to overcome means going home, sometimes empty-handed. It was a nice little bump in the road, unexpected but not unwanted by Cameron and his staff.
“It’s always good to face adversity when you win a hockey game,” the coach said. “This is my fourth world junior, and one of the things I’ve learned is to expect the unexpected. It never goes the way you pull it off. It’s your team’s ability to be able to adapt.
“The adversity was good, because we won. Hopefully we can learn from this and move forward.”