Vernon’s Curtis Lazar is playing the rest of the 38th IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships with a black right eye, a souvenir from the hit-till-ya-drop New Year’s showdown between Canada and the U.S.
Captain Canada was struck in the face early in the thriller before 18,295 fans at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Even Lazar wasn’t sure whose stick actually connected along the side boards.
“I’ve got quite a shiner now and I watched the replay and I think (linemate Jake) Virtanen hit the American and it was the American’s stick that hit me,” Lazar told The Morning Star. “I was very lucky that it didn’t hit my eye and that I didn’t get cut open. What a way to start the game.”
Canada faces Denmark today (5 p.m. PDT) in quarterfinal action at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.The IIHF reports there are 25 hockey rinks in Denmark and 7,600 in Canada.
Lazar went hard to the net for his second goal of the tournament midway through the crazy third period against the U.S. Connor McDavid drew the assist.
A former Edmonton Oil King, Lazar followed the puck into the goal and was able to see the goal light turn red from within the cage. After a lengthy replay evaluation, the goal was ruled legal. The Ottawa Senator forward was confident the goal would stand.
“I know a lot of people say I interfered with the goalie and directed it in with my body illegally, but I saw it the same way the refs did I guess. I saw a loose puck and crashed hard to the net, it bounced off my mid section and I’ll take it. It was a big goal for us.”
Lazar also started the play which led to a powerrplay goal by Kelowna Rockets’ defenceman Josh Morrisey 10:11 into the first period, making it 2-0.
The Canadian tandem of Darnell Nurse and Shea Theodore smothered American superstar Jack Eichel, holding the Boston University Terrier to one assist and a minus-three rating. Eichel has eight goals and 27 points in 16 NCAA games.
Lazar says the Americans – knocked out of the tournament by Russia for the second straight year Friday – and Canadians thrive on their epic battles.
“Its becoming a tradition,” said Lazar, asked what makes the games so special. “The Americans have a great program, and as we saw in the game, they have no quit. The rivalry is something that isn’t tough to get up for because it’s no secret that we don’t like each other and that competitiveness leads to some pretty wild and exciting hockey games.”
Dylan Larkin, a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, scored twice for the Americans to make things interesting in the final 90 seconds. Larkin has three goals and 19 points with the University of Michigan Wolverines.
Arizona Coyotes’s first-rounder Max Domi was the New Year’s Eve party favour as fans chanted his name after he converted a gorgeous feed from Sam Reinhart early in the second period. Domi, who has shown the Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum pose and chirped nearly every opposing player in the tourney, has impressed Lazar big time.
“Max is an incredible athlete,” said Lazar. “He plays the game with so much passion and desire and it’s awesome to see. Everytime he steps on the ice, he is making something happen in all three zones. He is leading by example and really motivating our team and the entire country.”
Lazar and teammates spent an hour after the New Year’s Eve game with family, reflecting on the game and 2014.
“It’s always special getting to spend time with my family because I don’t get to see them that often throughout the season. After that, we hopped on our plane and flew to Toronto and enjoyed the New Year’s countdown as a team in our team lounge. Now its time to prepare for Denmark.”
As for the Eichel vs McDavid comparisons, Lazar offered: “He (Eichel) is a special player. Everyone knows about the McDavid vs Eichel matchup and the reality is they both are going to have very lengthy and successful NHL careers.”