Head coach Dave Barr turned to Sarnia Sting goalie Ben Gaudreau for Canada’s first must-win game at the IIHF under-18 men’s world championship.
Gaudreau came through with 29 saves in a 10-3 quarter-final win over the Czech Republic on Monday in Plano, Texas.
Canada advances to the semifinals Wednesday.
Gaudreau earned the start in the playoff opener by making 24 saves in a 5-2 win over Belarus in the final pool game Saturday.
“He’s a great goalie,” Team Canada defenceman Corson Ceulemans said after the pool finale. “We’re lucky to have him between the pipes.
“He made some huge saves for us. If we didn’t have him, it probably would have been a closer game than it was.”
Gaudreau has a 3-0 record to go with his 2.33 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
The North Bay native is being tested at the world championship even if he isn’t seeing as much rubber as he did as a Sting rookie in 2019-20.
“I think we (the Sting) averaged like 40 shots-against a game, so I’m used to it,” he said Saturday. “This was nice and easy in my books. But it’s good. I like making the highlight-reel saves, so it was fun.”
He’s shared the workload with Seattle Thunderbirds’ Thomas Milic, who leads all goaltenders at the tournament with a 0.50 GAA and .975 save percentage in two starts.
“It’s a great problem to have. We’ve got two goalies that have played very well and our third goalie (Tyler Brennan) is very capable of hopping in there if we need him,” Barr said.
Canada takes a 5-0 record into its semifinal. The medal games will be Thursday.
Gaudreau’s first start at the tournament was his first official game in more than a year.
“It’s definitely something you’ve got to adjust to right away,” he said. “I’ve been doing a little bit of skating and stuff, but nothing to the level of these guys’ shots. (We) got a couple practices in before (a pre-tournament game against) Finland. … It’s just about getting some good shots in practice and it leads over into games.”
Gaudreau, 18, has stayed active since the COVID-19 pandemic cut short the 2019-20 season and forced the cancellation of the 2020-21 season.
He’s preparing for the NHL draft to be held July 23-24.
“I was in the gym almost every day, sometimes twice a day,” he said. “I was trying to get stronger, gain some weight.
“When I could get on the ice, I was going on the ice. There was lots of trips down to Toronto and stuff like that, getting on the ice and just doing what I had to do to be ready for this. It was a busy off-season. It went well – as well as it could have went.”
He targeted certain areas for improvement.
“My hands were something that I really had to focus in on,” he said. “I feel like this year I’ve received lots of compliments about them. It’s growing in my game.
“And then my speed. For me, going into last year, I was getting used to the speed but wasn’t really doing the speed, I guess is the best way of saying it. But I learned how to at the end of the year. I was working out a lot harder and gaining muscle in my legs so I could do that.”