Sam Reinhart (2014, first round) scored the game-winning goal Monday as Canada claimed the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship with a 5-4 victory over Russia. Canada’s triumph in Toronto was their record 16th first-place finish at the event, and their first gold medal since 2009 in Ottawa.
It was the second straight year that a Buffalo Sabres prospect scored the game-winning goal in the prestigious Under-20 event after Rasmus Ristolainen’s dramatic overtime marker last January.
Reinhart’s goal, his fifth of the tournament and third game-winner, gave the returning centerman points in all seven Canadian contests. He notched 11 total points to tie teammates Nic Petan (WPG) and Connor McDavid for the tournament lead. The dominant performance was capped with 20 shots on goal and a team-high plus-13 rating, earning Reinhart the honor as one of Canada’s Three Best Players as well as a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
Reinhart’s international performance wasn’t just about offense, though. He calmly killed penalties throughout the tournament while supporting Canada’s defensemen with excellent positioning and a smart stick. He stepped up his efficiency at the face-off circle in the title tilt, winning 13 of 21 draws including many late in the defensive zone to finish the tournament with a 58 percent success rate.
With the Air Canada Centre rocking in anticipation prior to the opening face-off, the dynamic trio of Reinhart, Max Domi (ARI) and Anthony Duclair (NYR) would keep the building buzzing with a goal on the game’s first shift.
Reinhart controlled the draw to Darnell Nurse (EDM) and raced in on the forecheck to jam at the puck behind the Russian net. It was all Duclair from there, with the right-winger protecting the puck along the boards and passing it off to Domi before burying the return feed just 23 seconds in.
Canada kept the heat on with another tally from Nick Paul (OTT) at 2:32 to chase Igor Shestyorkin (NYR) from the cage. But the Russians would get one back off the stick of Dmitri Yudin at 9:20 to make it a 2-1 game at the first intermission.
The teams upped the ante in a frenetic second period, combining for six goals on 15 shots.
Just over five minutes in, McDavid gave Canada a 3-1 lead when he accepted a long pass from Josh Morrissey (WPG) and applied the jets for a quick-handed five-hole finish. The top-rated prospect for the 2015 draft, McDavid finished the tournament with 11 points to tie for eighth all-time among Under-18 skaters in the event’s history.
Canada added another marker at 7:22 as Domi skated down the left side and coolly snapped a shot to the glove side. Reinhart entered the zone in stride with Domi, driving the middle to buy the shooter an extra second to pick his spot.
The goal flurry continued at 12:30 with Reinhart scoring the eventual deciding tally when he fed a puck to Domi in the neutral zone and again filled the center lane with his stick on the ice, this time for the tip of his wingman’s shot to make it a 5-1 game.
Russia kept fighting back, though, as Ivan Barbashev (STL), Sergey Tolchinsky (CAR) and Nikolay Goldobin (SJS) all scored in a span of 3:16 late in the period to cut Canada’s lead to 5-4 after 40 minutes.
Reinhart found himself in the penalty box to begin the third period, but his teammates would pick him up with a sound kill before staving off the surging Russians the rest of the way. He nearly connected for his second goal of the night midway through the period, but a Domi feed at the tail end of a tic-tac-toe play skipped over his stick at the goal mouth to keep it a one-goal game.
With a gold medal around his neck, Reinhart will head back to Kootenay for the closing chapter of his Western Hockey League career. The team won 14 of 15 games following his return from Buffalo to vault into playoff contention. Reinhart scored eight goals and 27 points in that span.
In the day’s earlier contest, Victor Olofsson (2014, seventh round) was held pointless as Sweden lost to Slovakia 4-2 in the bronze medal game.
With Adam Brodecki unable to play, Olofsson was bumped up to a line with Adrian Kempe (LAK) and Lucas Wallmark (CAR). The group was unable to generate much firepower with Olofsson finishing the game without recording a shot on goal.
The 19-year-old MODO product completed the tournament with one assist, six shots on goal and a plus-one rating.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker’s web site - sabresprospects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @sabresprospects for in-game updates throughout the week on any Buffalo prospects that are in action.