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QMJHL stars shine bright at World Juniors

Andrea Leigh Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images

The 2020 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic created its fair share of dramatic moments that won’t soon be forgotten. It was also a spectacular showcase for several QMJHL players, who took their games to the next level on the international stage.

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TRUE NORTH STRONG

Team Canada did not exactly take the most direct route to its 18th gold medal in tournament history. However, the squad – which included five current and one former QMJHLer – found a way to capture the title in a dramatic third period comeback over Russia.

One of the biggest stories of the tournament revolved around Rimouski Oceanic winger Alexis Lafrenière. The potential top selection in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, he showed the rest of the world what the “Q” already knew by returning from an injury that cost him two preliminary round games to post ten points in five games overall. This included a four-point effort in the tournament opener versus Team USA, and a pair of helpers in the gold medal match. His spectacular performance earned him numerous accolades at the conclusion of the event, including tournament MVP honors, the first QMJHL player to earn that distinction since Thomas Chabot in 2017. He was also named Top Forward of the tournament, the first ever Quebec-born player to receive the honor.

Also representing the “Q” on the Canadian squad was returning blueliner Jared McIsaac (Moncton Wildcats), whose goal and three assists placed him second on the club in defensive scoring, as well as winger Raphaël Lavoie (Chicoutimi Saguenéens) who chipped in with a pair of assists in seven games. Center Dawson Mercer (Chicoutimi) was held pointless during the event, but nonetheless suited up for key minutes while playing up and down the lineup when injuries and suspensions set the team back. Olivier Rodrigue (Moncton) served the club in his role of third goaltender, while QMJHL alumni Joseph Veleno made his way back to the event by way of the AHL Grand Rapid Griffins and proved a consistent offensive threat, scoring once and adding five assists, one of which came in the Gold Medal encounter.

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - JANUARY 5: Canada's Raphael Lavoie #10, Barrett Hayton #27, Alexis Lafreniere #11, Dawson Mercer #20 and Joe Veleno #9 look on during the Canadian national anthem following a 4-3 gold medal game win against Russia at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship at Ostravar Arena on January 5, 2020 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC – JANUARY 5: Canada’s Raphael Lavoie #10, Barrett Hayton #27, Alexis Lafreniere #11, Dawson Mercer #20 and Joe Veleno #9 look on during the Canadian national anthem following a 4-3 gold medal game win against Russia at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship at Ostravar Arena on January 5, 2020 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

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MARITIME CONNECTION DRIVES RUSSIAN MACHINE

Though the tournament ended on a heartbreaking note for Team Russia, this year’s silver medalists put on a dazzling show for the Czech crowds, thanks in large part to key contributions from three members of Maritime-based QMJHL rosters.

Moncton center Alexander Khovanov, who left for the tournament in third place in the QMJHL’s scoring derby, continued his strong showing with Team Russia, finishing the tournament with three goals and five assists in seven games, tied for second on the club in scoring. The other player that matched him in points is none other than Charlottetown Islanders center Nikita Alexandrov, who registered a point in all seven tournament games for the Russians, including the opening tally in the Gold Medal game. Rounding out the “Q” contingent on the squad was Cape Breton Eagles winger Egor Sokolov, who proved to be clutch while recording three goals and an assist during the event.

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - JANUARY 4: Russia's Yegor Sokolov #13 celebrates his first period goal against Sweden's with Alexander Khovanov #7 during semifinal round action at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship at Ostravar Arena on January 4, 2020 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC – JANUARY 4: Russia’s Yegor Sokolov #13 celebrates his first period goal against Sweden with Alexander Khovanov #7 during semifinal round action at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship at Ostravar Arena on January 4, 2020 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

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“Q” GUYS CAN’T MISS FOR SWISS

Team Switzerland, typically a challenging foe at the event in recent years, once again kept that tradition alive. Despite falling at the hands of Team Russia during the quarter-finals, the Swiss squad’s second-place showing during the preliminary round was fueled in large part thanks to a trio of players that suit up in the “Q”.

Returnee and Arizona Coyotes draftee Valentin Nussbaumer (Shawinigan Cataractes) led the team in scoring with two goals and five assists, while Gatineau Olympiques defenseman David Aebischer finished tied for fourth among all blueliners in tournament scoring with six points, all assists, in five games. Also in the mix was Charlottetown winger Gaetan Jobin, who chipped in with two goals, an assist and a +/- rating of +3.

TRINEC, CZECH REPUBLIC - DECEMBER 28: Switzerland Valentin Nussbaumer #18 skates with the puck against Sweden during preliminary round action at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship at Werk Arena on December 28, 2019 in Trinec, Czech Republic. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
TRINEC, CZECH REPUBLIC – DECEMBER 28: Switzerland Valentin Nussbaumer #18 skates with the puck against Sweden during preliminary round action at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship at Werk Arena on December 28, 2019 in Trinec, Czech Republic. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

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FROM SHERBROOKE TO SAINT JOHN TO SLOVAKIA

Team Slovakia battled their way to a quarter-final berth at this years’ event, losing to Canada in the playoff round. Carrying the majority of the load between the pipes was 2020 NHL Draft Prospect and Sherbrooke Phoenix rookie Samuel Hlavaj. The QMJHL’s leader in GAA and save percentage earned Slovakia’s lone victory of the tournament. Meanwhile, Saint John Sea Dogs winger and 2019 Tampa Bay Lightning draftee Maxim Cajkovic chipped in a pair of assists in five games while logging over 16 minutes per game.

TRINEC, CZECH REPUBLIC - DECEMBER 30: Switzerland's Gilian Kohler #27 shoots the puck against Samuel Hlavaj #2 during preliminary round action at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship at Werk Arena on December 30, 2019 in Trinec, Czech Republic. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
TRINEC, CZECH REPUBLIC – DECEMBER 30: Switzerland’s Gilian Kohler #27 shoots the puck against Samuel Hlavaj #2 during preliminary round action at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship at Werk Arena on December 30, 2019 in Trinec, Czech Republic. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

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RASKA LOGS BIG MINUTES FOR HOSTS

The Czechs faced an uphill battle literally from the start of the tournament. Former Rouyn-Noranda Huskies forward Jakub Lauko, now playing for the AHL Providence Bruins, suffered an injury just six seconds into his first shift of the event, bringing his World Junior experience to a premature end. It would be the first of several roster setbacks to plague the host nation, who would be eliminated by Team Sweden in the quarter-finals. Regardless, Rimouski winger Adam Raska stepped up when required. Though he would go pointless in the event, his shutdown style kept Team Czech Republic’s opponents off the scoresheet on several occasions.

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - DECEMBER 26: The Czech Republic skates during preliminary round action against Russia at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship at Ostravar Arena on December 26, 2019 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC – DECEMBER 26: Czech Republic’s Adam Raska skates during preliminary round action against Russia at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship at Ostravar Arena on December 26, 2019 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

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JENTZSCH KEEPS GERMANS ALIVE

Team Germany was promoted to the top division for the 2020 World Juniors. Thanks to a clutch victory in the deciding relegation game against Kazakhstan, they will also make an appearance at the 2021 event in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta. Sherbrooke center Taro Jentzsch was a key component of this German squad, racking up four assists in seven games while averaging over 19 minutes per game, second among all forwards on the team.

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - DECEMBER 30: Germany vs Canada preliminary round action of the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship at Ostravar Arena on December 30, 2019 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC – DECEMBER 30: Germany’s Taro Jentzsch carries the pucks vs Canada in preliminary round action of the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship at Ostravar Arena on December 30, 2019 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
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