(Gothenburg, Sweden) Scott Salmond and Peter Anholt saw Canada’s hopes at the World Junior Hockey Championship evaporate in an instant.

The Hockey Canada staff had assembled a private team of five players, the majority of whom were in the NHL. Two other players had to deal with injury or a virus, which led to last-minute changes.

Canada looked good at times but at other times the country seemed downright disorganized.

The Canadians probably offered their best hockey on Tuesday, during the second and third periods of the quarter-final against the Czechs.

Salmond and Anholt, like the fans watching from home, were baffled by the players’ refusal to shoot from sought-after spots. It was expensive.

Canada dominated the final 40 minutes but was put away thanks to a goal that hit a defender’s leg and stick with 11.7 seconds left in the third period.

The 3-2 loss was hard to swallow for a hockey powerhouse that had won gold twice in a row and aspired to the top again, despite significant absences.

“It still feels empty,” Anholt said Wednesday. Like a knot in the stomach. »

Canada’s defeat against Sweden in the preliminary round meant that the maple leaf finished second in Group A, thus obtaining a tougher opponent in the quarter-final.

Against the Swedes and Czechs, Salmond saw a group unable or unwilling to direct the puck to the net. By his calculations, the team passed up 30 shooting opportunities on Tuesday. “Those are our trademarks when we find a way to win,” he said.

A group relying on speed, skill and tenacity did not buzz enough near the net. We therefore did not create enough second and third chances to score.

“They are elite players,” said the general manager of the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. But at this tournament, it probably would have been better to keep things simpler on the ice. »

Tuesday’s defeat was the first against Czechia in the round of 16. “The players gave everything they had,” Salmond argued. They represented Canada to the best of their abilities. »

He pointed out that players born in 2004 were very affected by the pandemic. Tournaments were canceled, development opportunities were missed. “They learn on the job,” Salmond said. They gain international experience at the most critical time. »

Connor Bedard (Chicago), Adam Fantilli (Columbus), Kevin Korchinsky (Chicago), Zach Benson (Buffalo) and Shane Wright (Seattle/AHL) could have joined Canada from the professional ranks.

“We have to rely on depth,” said Salmond, whose program still got Matthew Poitras from the Bruins. You have to be able to overcome (who is available and who is not). »

Canada lost Tristan Luneau (Anaheim) to a virus, which required a hospital stay. “He could have been the best defender in the tournament,” Salmond said of Luneau. When you take that out of training, it hurts. »

Predators prospect Tanner Molendyk was sent home with a wrist injury.

Salmond recalled that despite the absences, the objective remains the same. “We don’t go to these tournaments to [only] win a medal. We are going there to win. »

Despite the disappointment, management has already turned the page in preparation for the next edition of the tournament, which will take place in Ottawa. “You get back up quickly,” Anholt said. You move on. We will be better next time. »

Macklin Celebrini, the presumptive first pick in the upcoming NHL draft, led Canada with eight points, including four goals. According to Salmond, he exceeded expectations in Sweden.

“You sometimes wonder if you should give this kind of role to a 17-year-old,” Salmond said. But when we see his talent and the esteem he has from his teammates, we realize that he is a special player. »