WJC 2015: Zach Fucale, Martin Reway Impress

Photo: Richard Wolowicz, HHOF-IIHF Images

Photo: Richard Wolowicz, HHOF-IIHF Images

5-4 Canada. 8.1 seconds left. Canada ices the puck. Russia wins the puck back to Rinat Valiev, who takes a shot. The shot is deflected, but Fucale, as he has been on every other big stage, is there to calmly make the save.

3.9 seconds left. Sam Reinhart lines up against Ivan Barbashev. Reinhart wins the puck to Shea Theodore. Theodore rings the puck around the boards as Zach Fucale throws his arms into the air. Gloves, helmets, sticks tossed into the air as the joyous Canadians pour over the bench and crowd Fucale. Five years, five long years Canada has had to wait for this moment–the golden moment. Ivan Hlinka Gold, QMJHL President Cup, Memorial Cup, and now a World Junior Championship Gold: Fucale is a winner yet again.

Just a few short hours earlier, Sweden and Slovakia faced off with the Bronze on the line. 3-2 Slovakia with under a minute remaining. Martin Reway picks up a loose puck, flicks it off the glass, wins the ensuing footrace and sends a pass to a wide open Patrik Koys. Koys takes his time and fires the puck into the open net. The Slovakian players celebrate. 4-2 with 56.7 seconds left. For second time in history, Slovakia has won a medal at the tournament, and the first since 1999.

For Fucale, this was two years in the making. Fucale began the tournament with a shutout over Slovakia, but Team Canada opted to go with Eric Comrie the following game. Comrie answered with a shutout of his own, but Fucale was put back into the crease against Finland. Fucale stopped 27 of 28 shots that he faced, playing a solid, but not excellent game. In the much anticipated Canada versus USA New Year’s Eve match up, Comrie got the nod. Comrie, too, had a solid, but not excellent game. After the group stage was over, Canada stuck with Fucale all the way through.

In the quarterfinals, Fucale faced just 14 shots, all of which he stopped. It wasn’t a particularly impressive performance, but the 19-year-old netminder did his job. The methodical Canadian squad gave up just 15 shots against Slovakia in the semis, with Fucale surrendering one goal. At times, Fucale’s rebound control struggled, and was unable to close the glove on loose pucks, but once again, Fucale did his part.

Gold Medal game. It’s the biggest stage that many of the players had participated in–Fucale included. But Fucale has won in similar situations, backstopping Canada to an Ivan Hlinka Gold, and Halifax to a Memorial Cup. By 12:30 into the second period, Canada opened up a 5-1 lead. Russia scored three quick goals by the period’s end, but Fucale was not fazed.

Despite being outshot 11-4 in the final frame, Canada did not allow a single goal against. Fucale was a huge reason why. Fucale’s composure and ability to bounce back after weak goals or poor performances was on full display in that period. Fucale shut the door–he did his job. It was may not have been in the most notable or spectacular fashion, but Fucale got the job done–and that’s what matters.

Martin Reway’s performance was quite similar. The expectations were high for Martin Reway after his fantastic 2014 tournament, and although he didn’t reach that same level, Slovakia eclipsed theirs.

Reway struggled in the first game against Canada. He endlessly spun back in his own zone, looking to begin a rush that wasn’t there, and committing turnovers. Reway bounced back with a two-assist performance in a 2-1 upset over Finland. But against the USA, Reway was once again selfish and tried to do too much on his own.

Against Germany in the final Group Stage game, Reway exploded for a hat trick, and from there he never looked back. Reway helped Slovakia knock out the rival Czech Republic in the quarters, adding an empty net goal and playing his most complete game to that point. Although Slovakia lost 5-1 to Canada in the semis, Reway played a fairly good game, and secondary scorers such as Matej Paulovic and Robert Lantosi showed signs of life. Goaltender Denis Godla allowed five goals, but made numerous highlight reel-worthy saves.

It all came together against Sweden in the Bronze Medal game. The heavily-favoured Swedish team was dealing with a heartbreaking loss to Russia and Slovakia pounced at the opportunity. They jumped out a quick 2-0 lead, and were not fazed when Sweden tied the game. Early in the third, Pavol Skadlicky scored, giving Slovakia a 3-2 lead, set up by none other than Martin Reway. By the end of the game, Reway had played his best game of the tournament, and possibly posted one of the most complete games of his career. He made strong defensive plays, contributed three assists, and played smart, selfless hockey. Goaltender Denis Godla might have stolen the show, but Martin Reway was every bit as important.

With the three-point performance, Reway moved into sole possession of second place in Slovakia’s all-time scoring list at the tournament with 21 points in 18 games. Furthermore, Reway is now tied for first among Slovakians in assists at the tournament with 13.

Fucale and Reway play completely different positions, represent different countries, yet they had a similar tournament. Neither player was the best in the respective positions; neither player had a dominant tournament; yet both bounced back from their errors and mistakes, and helped their team to victory.

Fucale will return to the QMJHL, but will don the Quebec Remparts’ jersey rather than the Halifax Mooseheads’. Fucale will be on a much stronger team than Halifax, and will also be challenged in goal by the talented 2015 prospect, Callum Booth. Fucale will return to the Memorial Cup, as the Remparts will host it, for the second time in three years.

Meanwhile, Reway will head back to HC Sparta Praha, where he is among the team’s top players. Reway

Disappointment for de la Rose, Lehkonen

For two straight years, Sweden has fallen in the Gold Medal game. For Sweden, as well as captain Jacob de la Rose, this tournament was about redemption. Unfortunately, they would leave empty handed.

The tournament got off to a quality start for de la Rose, who recorded four points in his first two games. It appears de la Rose was on the right path and was going to be an offensive leader for the team. However, as the games wore on, de la Rose became less and less effective.

By the end of the tournament, Sweden was struggling to generate chances without William Nylander on the ice. The depth that made Sweden such a threat on paper had dried up. And de la Rose’s ineffectiveness was a massive reason for the lack of success.

For now, it will be back to the Hamilton Bulldogs for de la Rose. This year certainly hasn’t gone to plan, at least not on the offensive side of things. Hopefully playing against his own age group will give him confidence and the struggles provide extra motivation.

For Finland, this tournament was a disaster from the start. They lost their first three games, including one to Slovakia, and managed their only win of the tournament against Germany–an unimpressive 2-0 win. Unsurprisingly, the defending champions were early outed by Sweden in the quarters.

Captain Artturi Lehkonen scored just one goal over the course of the tournament, and many times seemed completely ineffective. Lehkonen often acted as the net front presence on the Finns powerplay, which was a disastrous 0-for-20. With a young squad, Lehkonen was expected to carry a brunt of the offensive load, and not only did he not, but he often seemed completely ineffective in the offensive zone.

However, it wasn’t all bad for Lehkonen, as he once again impressed in his own zone. He played fearlessly, blocking shots and winning battles along the boards. The 19-year-old winger made numerous huge plays on the (albeit weak) penalty kill and perhaps was a big reason why Finland didn’t get completely blown out.

Lehkonen will return to the SHL’s Frolunda Indians, where he has gone 24 games without a single goal, recording just six assists. A stronger second half is a necessity to Lehkonen, as his role with the club minimized in the weeks leading up to the 2015 World Junior Championship.

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