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Team Canada opens World Junior Hockey Championship with win over Finland

Moose Jaw Warriors Mateychuk, Yager help Canada to 5-2 win to kick off tournament on positive note

Moose Jaw Warriors Denton Mateychuk, Brayden Yager and Team Canada are in the win column to start the 2024 World Junior Hockey Championship.

Canada scored goals in each period and added a pair of empty netters to take a 5-2 victory in their opening game of the tournament Tuesday morning in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Mateychuk picked up an assist on Canada’s first goal and Yager played significant minutes on the penalty kill as the duo both played a major role throughout the contest.

The Warriors captain played on the top defensive pairing alongside Maveric Lamoureux (Drummondville, QMJHL) while Yager suited up on the fourth line alongside Mackin Celebrini (Boston U) and Matthew Wood (Swift Current, WHL).

Yager and Mateychuk didn’t take long to get into the swing of things, with Finland’s first opportunity on the power play also giving the Warriors duo their first scoring chance.

Yager intercepted a cross-zone pass at the top of the circles and went in on a two-on-one with Mateychuk, but the Columbus Blue Jackets first-rounder was unable to get off a quality shot in close on Finland netminder Nikklas Kokko.

The majority of the first period was quiet otherwise, with Matthew Poitras (Halifax, QMJHL) having one of the best chances to finish off a three-on-two with seven minutes to play, only for Kokko to make a brilliant glove save.

Matthew Savoie (Wenatchee, WHL) and Celebrini also had great chances midway through the period.

All those opportunities paled in comparison to the chance Lenni Hameenaho had with four minutes remaining, as he was on the receiving end of a two-on-none but was absolutely robbed by the glove of Canada goaltender Mathis Rousseau (Halifax, QMJHL).

Sure enough, moments later Canada was on the board.

The scene was a familiar one for Warrior fans, too, as Mateychuk danced along the line before passing off to Lamoureux, who put a shot on goal that bounced off Brandon Wheat Kings forward Nate Danielson into the net with 3:36 to play in the opening frame.

Finland came out firing in the first five minutes of the second period and generated a handful of great chances, including a four-on-one in the opening moments that ended up with a shot wide of the net.

Rousseau would hold strong, though, and once Canada got things going, Jordan Dumais (Halifax, QMJHL) had a great chance to make it 2-0 midway through the period but had his breakaway shot go off the post. 

A few minutes later, Owen Allard (Sault Ste Marie, OHL) had his shot from the slot also go off the post, but it would bank off Kokko and into the net for the two-goal lead with 6:29 remaining,

Another Team Canada penalty gave Finland a chance to get back into it, and that they’d do when Aleksanteri Kaskimaki was left all alone in front of the Canada net and tucked in a shot off the post two minutes after Allard’s goal.

Canada had a couple chances in the third period early, and after Celebrini put a shot off the crossbar in the first couple minutes, he’d make good at 13:22. The 17-year-old jammed home a rebound that initially wasn’t called a goal, but a lengthy review would eventually give Celebrini the first of many World Junior goals to come.

A pair of Finland power plays in the last six minutes gave them every opportunity to get back in the game, but some solid penalty killing -- with both Yager and Mateychuk seeing significant minutes in crunch time -- led to Canada killing off both chances.

Poitras and Lamoureux each had empty net goals in the final two minutes as Finland pressed to get within striking distance, while Jere Lassila scored on the six-on-five with 1:04 to play in the game.

Canada had 22 shots on Kokko, Finland fired 17 on Rousseau.

All told, Mateychuk had the most ice time of any Canadian player at 16:55 and finished plus-two, Yager was on the ice for 7:36.

The pre-tournament also went well for both players, beginning with their exhibition game against an under-25 team from Denmark that resulted in an 8-0 Canada victory back on Dec. 19.. Mateychuk scored goals in the second and third periods and finished with two points, while Yager had a goal in the second frame.

Mateychuk also picked up a pair of assists in Canada’s 6-3 win over Switzerland on Dec. 22, but neither player hit the scoresheet in the 6-5 overtime loss to the United States in their final tune-up game on Dec. 23.

Canada is right back in action on Wednesday afternoon when they take on Latvia. Puck drop is 12:30 p.m. Moose Jaw time and the game can be found on TSN.

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