Canadian goalkeeper Carter Hart appreciated the effort from his teammate Cal Foote in the third period.
With the outcome still in doubt, one of the few pucks to get behind Hart was slowly sliding its way to the goal line when Foote dove and swept the puck out of harm’s way with his left hand to keep the Canadians comfortably in front of their opponents from Finland.
A video review confirmed Foote’s bailout was indeed a timely save. So the next time there was a break in the action, Hart skated to the Canadian bench to offer a high-five thank you with his catching hand to Foote.
Several shifts later, there were the two of them, opponents in the Western Hockey League – Hart with the Everett Silvertips and Foote with the Kelowna Rockets – celebrating a 4-2 World junior tournament-opening win over Finland in front of a sparse crowd of 9,552 in Buffalo on Tuesday.
It’s always nice to win the curtain-raising contest in this 10-country, 10-day event that means so much to even the casual Canadian hockey fan. But just as important as the win against a good team in Finland were the many positive signs for Canada.
You can point to the impressive play of the forward line of Robert Thomas, Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk. This trio accounted for goals from Katchouk and Raddysh. The three exhibited chemistry with their speed and work ethic, and what makes this development a neat story is that like Foote and Hart, they battle together all season long on different Ontario Hockey League teams.
Katchouk, of Waterloo, Ont., has 27 goals in 30 games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Thomas of Aurora, Ont. (20 goals, 46 points) leads the London Knights and Raddysh of Caledon, Ont. (15 goals, 44 points) plays for the defending-OHL champion Erie Otters.
This was supposed to be a team that lacked star power. It was supposed to be a team that had speed up front, a stingy blue line and a reliable goalie Hart, who has been having a banner season because of a stunning .961 save percentage.
Still, the defence had question marks. It was nice for the Canadian juniors had three returning defenders in Kale Clague, Jake Bean and Dante Fabbro as well as newcomers in studs Victor Mete and Foote.
But Fabbro was injured and only cleared to play shortly before the game against Finland. Nothing was going to keep him from this tournament. Last year, when Canada lost to the United States in a shootout in the gold-medal final, Fabbro returned to Boston University, where six of his teammates played for the United States. It wasn’t fun for Fabbro.
Mete arrived on the Canadian junior scene this month having played 27 games for the Montreal Canadiens this fall. But it’s never easy for a teenager to shift gears from the NHL to the best-on-best tournament for teenagers. There is pressure to lead and a massive adjustment in the style of play. But Mete was in fine form in the opener. His speed and vision created two goals.
Meanwhile, Foote likely would have made the team a year ago if not for an International Ice Hockey Federation rule that says a player cannot perform for his country if he doesn’t live there for an entire year before the competition.
Foote is the son of two-time Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medallist Adam Foote. The younger Foote has dual Canadian-U.S. citizenship, but after being raised in the Denver area he didn’t start to live in Kelowna until he showed up for training camp in August 2016.
The wait for Foote to play for Canada, like his Dad often did, was worth it. Just ask Hart and his teammates.