Canada annihilated Austria 10-1 Tuesday morning, finishing the preliminary round with a perfect 7-0-0-0 record.
But despite cruising through the group stage, Canada will need to be ready for their quarterfinal matchup against Belarus on Thursday. Belarus clinched fourth place in group B with a 3-2 win over Norway, winning four preliminary contests. They defeated the United States 5-2 and two of their three losses came in overtime.
“We know we’re going to be challenged by a very good Belarusian team,” coach Todd McLellan said. “They’re a hard team to play against. We’ve been able to watch some games and scout them a little bit.”
Canada has been eliminated during quarterfinal action the past two years, causing many to speculate another potential upset. The last time Canada had a perfect record heading into elimination rounds was 2008, finishing with a silver medal. On the flip side, however, Canada leads the tournament with 49 goals and managed to notch 10 tallies without their captain, Sidney Crosby.
“Sid has played a lot of hockey this year,” McLellan said. “We think he’ll be better suited come Thursday with the rest.” Should Canada win gold, Crosby will become one of 26 players to win triple gold (i.e. Olympic gold, Stanley Cup and IIHF gold) in the history of the game. Defenseman Dan Hamhuis wore the “C” in Crosby’s place.
“It’s an honour, for sure,” Hamhuis said. “I mean, it’s an honour first of all to put this jersey on and represent the country. I’ve had some big shoes to fill for Sid, but we’re hoping he’s back next game.”
Even with Crosby sidelined, however, Canada came out of the gates flying, registering four goals from Tyson Barrie, Matt Duchene, Taylor Hall and Aaron Ekblad in the opening frame.
Jason Spezza added to the frenzy less than two minutes into the second, Jordan Eberle making it 6-0 Canada to close out the period.
Austria would score to begin the third, but nine seconds later Nathan Mackinnon put the puck right back in the Austrian cage. Spezza and Duchene would pot their second goals, while Brayden Schenn – playing in his second game of the tournament – also found the back of the net becoming Canada’s eighth goal scorer.
“It’s been all sorts of guys that have been scoring lots of goals and getting lots of points in this tournament,” Duchene said. “Everybody’s contributing pretty equally. That’s a really good thing, the sign of a good team.”
Before the tournament began, Canada battled back from an early 2-1 deficit to defeat Austria 4-2 on April 29 in an exhibition game. Today’s victory show’s how far they’ve come as a team.
“We wanted to use this game as a measuring bar for where we’ve come in two and a half weeks,” said McLellan. “We’ve come a long way as a group, as a team. We should be prepared now for the elimination round.”
The stage is set as Canada looks more than ready to take home the gold. Three games separate Canada from first place and at this point they are expected to win each contest. Of course this task isn’t easy but one thing is certain – this is their tournament to lose.