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Pelletier, Zary come up short with Canada as Wolf and Team USA take gold at the World Juniors

After winning their respective semifinal matchups, Jakob Pelletier, Connor Zary, and Dustin Wolf were right back at it facing off in the gold medal game. In a typical close game between the two rivals, USA defeated Canada by a score of 2-0. After dominating all tournament, Canada were stifled by the American defense and Spencer Knight who had a tremendous game. This is the fourth straight win for team USA over Canada in the gold medal game.

Yan Kuznetsov was also back in action for Russia in the bronze medal game, however he was bumped down to the extra D spot for this one and got a total of zero shifts in the game. Russia went on to lose 4-1, coincidence? I think not.

Gold Medal game recap

As was the case on Monday, Pelletier started the game on the top line alongside Dylan Cozens and Connor McMichael after the trio played well in the semifinals. Connor Zary was once again listed as the 13th forward going into the game.

The Canadians had a good start to the period with Pelletier’s line getting some offensive zone time and a couple chances to open the scoring. The game got off to a blistering start as both teams came out flying. After an even start, the ice tilted big time about halfway into the period as team USA began to dominate Canada, something no team has done all tournament.

Pelletier spent most of his minutes in the defensive zone after the first couple minutes and got stuck for what seemed like forever as the Americans had over two straight minutes of zone time at one point. This led to an opening goal by Alex Turcotte, which represented the first time Canada had trailed in the tournament. It was also the first even strength goal Canada had given up all tournament.

The second period picked up where the first left off as Canada and Pelletier’s line was dominated for the opening 30 seconds and the Americans scored their second goal just 32 seconds into the period.

Zary saw limited ice time in this one as he had just four minutes of action through the first two periods. A bit surprising considering Canada wasn’t getting much offense going on at all. He did however make a great defensive play to stop the Americans from going up 3-0 midway through the period.

The game looked like it could get out of reach as Canada’s struggles continued and halfway through the period Pelletier took an unnecessary hooking call as USA gained the zone. He was able to breath a sigh of relief however as Canada did a great job on the penalty kill and even hit the post on a shorthanded chance. This was the spark Canada needed as they settled into the game for the rest of the period and controlled play, generating some great chances along the way that Knight did a great job to stop.

The coaching staff seemed to really like what Pelletier was bringing to the table as he got a ton of minutes through two periods with the fourth most among Canadian forwards. He threw a couple big hits as well as he tried to bring some energy. Throughout the tournament, Pelletier has shown he can be the type of player that can drag his team into a game.

In the third period, Canada dominated play as they were pushing for a goal to get back into the game. Zary was bumped up to Quinton Byfield’s line as Canada went back to the duo once again as they looked to spark the offence. Zary had a great chance late in the period but was stoned point blank by Knight. Despite all the chances, Canada was unable to get anything past Knight and was shutout after averaging over six goals per game coming into this one.

Tournament recap

Despite the disappointing result for Pelletier and Zary it was a pretty successful tournament for both Flames prospects. For Pelletier, he started camp on the bubble to even make the team and ended it as one of Canada’s more important forwards and on the first line.

He was impressive in every game both on the offensive side as well as on defense. His energy and constant pressure were also evident in every game. It’s not a stretch to say Pelletier was on of Canada’s best players in the tournament. He finishes the tournament with three goals, four assists, seven points, and nine shots in seven games.

For Zary just making the team as one of the youngest players on the roster is a great achievement. Despite his limited minutes, he did show some flashes of skill on offense when given the chance. He will have a great shot to make the team next year as a returnee and will hopefully play a much larger role for Canada. He finished the tournament with two assists and 11 shots in seven games. Both Zary and Pelletier will be on their way to Calgary for the Flames training camp later this week.

Kuznetsov came into camp as a longshot to make the Russian team but cracked the roster and went on to have a solid tournament. Despite being one of the youngest players on the team Kuznetsov got regular minutes on defense all tournament (before the bronze medal game) and didn’t look out of place against some elite level talent.

He will be eligible to play in the tournament again next year and should take on a larger role with the team. Kuznetsov will be heading back to UConn for the NCAA season and could get into a game as soon as this week.

For the second year in a row, Dustin Wolf got limited minutes as he backed up Spencer Knight for the majority of the tournament. After Knight faltered in the Americans opening game it looked like Wolf might have a chance to take over the starting role with his shutout win the following game.

The Americans went back to Knight after though and he was great the rest of the tournament on route to clinching gold for the Americans. Wolf ends the tournament with 86:35 of ice time, a 1-0 record and a perfect 1.00 save percentage stopping all 21 shots he faced. He will be back in the WHL with Everett for his final junior season when the WHL eventually gets started.

Photo Credits: @HC_WJC

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