Capitals’ 2019 First-round Pick Connor McMichael Helps Rally Team Canada To Gold Medal In 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship

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Already having a banner season with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, the Washington Capitals’ 2019 first-round pick Connor McMichael added to his impressive 2019-20 campaign with a goal that helped Team Canada capture the Gold Medal in the 2020 World Junior Championship.

McMichael entered the game having played six games in various roles for Team Canada’s Head Coach Dale Hunter since the tournament started. He played both center and wing, and showed his ability to change within the game. He also demonstrated a strong hockey IQ to accompany his deadly-accurate shot. Over the six games played leading up to the final, McMichael averaged 13:49 of ice time, registering four goals and an assist and entered the game on a three-game goal-scoring streak.

McMichael’s versatility shows why some have talked of him being able to crack the Capitals’ lineup next fall. He has one more year of junior-eligibility, but with what he’s been able to do at times in the OHL this season, it may be unfair for both McMichael’s development and the opposition to have him come back.

The Game

Team Canada looked to add to their 17 titles at the World Junior Championships in a Sunday matchup against a Russian team that trounced them 6-0 in the preliminary round. After falling behind 3-1, Team Canada was able to come back for a huge win that began with a McMichael goal.

Joel Hofer (Portland WHL/ St. Louis NHL) continued to guard Canada’s crease for Dale Hunter’s squad and was fantastic, making many key saves. Defenseman Bowen Byram (Vancouver WHL/Colorado NHL ) returned to the Canadian blueline after missing the quarter-final win over Team Finland due to illness. Team-leading scorer Barrett Hayton (SSM OHL/Arizona NHL), who left the last game after an arm injury, returned in a gritty effort by the former Sault-Ste. Marie Greyhound.

1st Period

The first period saw Russia come out with pressure in the Canadians’ zone for the first several minutes of play, before Canada could counter with pressure of their own as the teams skated for just over three-minutes of whistle-free hockey to open the game.

Russia saw the first power play of the game at the 4:06 mark on a tripping penalty to Jared McIsaac (Halifax QMJHL/Detroit NHL), the start of a true test of the Canadian squad, who would take four penalties in the period. Canada would have a solid kill,  allowing one shot against a power play unit that had scored seven power play goals in their last three games. Team Canada took some momentum back over the next couple of minutes, evening the shots, 4-4, midway through the period.

Team Canada received their first man-advantage having converted on eight of 15 chances in their last three games, and going 12 for 27 overall. However, Joe Veleno would get called for interference to shorten the Canadians’ power play by 27 seconds. While on the short 4-on-4, McMichael had a good opportunity on Russian starter Amir Miftakhov.

The Canadians would kill off Veleno’s penalty, but would take two more penalties in the period, both of which would be successfully killed off. The two teams would head to the first intermission scoreless.

2nd Period

Despite a penalty by Russia’s Danil Pylenkov just 35 seconds into the middle frame, Canada’s power play couldn’t connect the dots to convert, however Alexis Lafreniere (Rimouski/QMJHL) nearly put Canada on the board after blasting a one-timer off a nice feed from Hayton.

Canada was called for a fifth penalty at the 7:55 mark as Hayton was sent off for holding the stick. Canada could have been considered lucky to escape the first period without a power play goal against, but their luck ran dry at the 9:38 mark of the second, after a tipped shot by St. Louis Blues prospect Nikita Alexandrov found its way between Hofer’s legs to give Russia the 1-0 lead.

After some diligent play by Dylan Cozens, the Canadians found themselves with a prime opportunity to tie and take the lead, with a 5-on-3 man-advantage. It didn’t take Cozens long to find the back of the net, as he put the puck past Miftakhov at the 11:01 on assists from Veleno and Lefrieniere to knot the game at 1-1.

Russia would take their second lead of the game three minutes later as Russian captain Grigori Denisenko poked home a loose puck in the crease, as the leading scorer in last year’s tournament took advantage of a shot that hit Hofer in the mask at the 14:46 mark.

The second ended with the two teams even in shots and Team Canada heading to the power play at the start of the third.

3rd Period

Canada missed an opportunity to tie the game on their period-opening powerplay. Minutes later, McMichael had a great chance to get Canada their second goal, but was unable to beat Miftakhov on a breakaway chance.

The Russians would take advantage of a McIsaac turnover at the 8:46 mark, as Maxim Sorkin beat Hofer to the blocker side to give Russia a 3-1 lead.

Despite finding themselves down by two, Team Canada refused to throw in the towel, and over the next 2:01, would climb back into the game.

The gap was closed to 3-2 after McMichael deflected a shot off his foot for his fifth goal of the tournament and fifth-straight game. The tally came at 9:20 to push the Canadian squad to within one, on assists from Calen Addison and Byram.

Then Barrett Hayton, who played the game with an injured hand, scored on a beautiful wrist-shot just 2:01 later at the 11: 21 mark on the power play to knot the game 3-3.

Forward Akil Thomas (Niagara IceDogs) put his name in the Canada Hockey Record books with a highlight goal at the 16:02 mark of the third. After playing under four minutes in the first two periods, Thomas put Canada ahead 4-3 on Canada’s third consecutive goal and the first goal of his World Junior career, with just 3:58 left in regulation.

Kevin Bahl was called for his second penalty late at 17:19 to give the Russians a late power play opportunity to tie the game. However, Russia couldn’t score on the man-advantage, and were called for interference 1:14 later. Despite pulling Miftakhov for added pressure, the Russians took another penalty at the 19:22 mark to put away any chance of tying the game.

McMichael Analysis

Like he had done earlier in the tournament, McMichael was a catalyst in the Canadians’ comeback with his fifth goal of the tournament, and also assisted on the game-winning goal by Thomas to finish with five goals and seven points in seven games played in the tournament. The tournament showed off why the Capitals are high on their prized prospect (signed last year to an entry-level contract), with his ability to play anywhere while being a dangerous player on the ice offensively and in so many other ways.

By Marcus Boutilier

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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4 Responses to Capitals’ 2019 First-round Pick Connor McMichael Helps Rally Team Canada To Gold Medal In 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship

  1. Anonymous says:

    Good showing for the kid. He’s in a tough spot, not much more to gain in OHL, but too young for AHL.

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