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Canada hangs on for 3-1 win over stubborn Slovakia in world junior championship

EDMONTON — Jordan Spence scored what turned out to be an important goal for Canada in his first shift of the world junior hockey championship.
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Canada's Dylan Cozens (22) and Jack Quinn (29) battle in front with Slovakia defenceman Simon Becar (3) as goalie Samuel Hlavaj (29) makes the save during second period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship action in Edmonton on Sunday, December 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON — Jordan Spence scored what turned out to be an important goal for Canada in his first shift of the world junior hockey championship. 

A day after Canada romped 16-2 over short-staffed Germany to start the tournament, goals were much harder to come by in a 3-1 win over Slovakia on Sunday.

Spence was a healthy scratch in Canada's opener. The defenceman was informed Sunday afternoon he would draw into the lineup for suspended teammate Braden Schneider.

Spence scored the host country's only goal in the first 36 minutes of the game.

"It was great for me to score, but it's good that it created for momentum for our team, which it did," Spence said.

Philip Tomasino had a goal and an assist and Jack Quinn scored an empty-netter for Canada. Devon Levi made 17 saves for the win on his 19th birthday.

"I didn't go on my phone much. I was focused on the game," Levi said. "I can answer my birthday messages later, but the task at hand was to win the game." 

Martin Romiak scored for Slovakia (1-1). Goaltender Samuel Hlavaj of the QMJHL's Sherbrooke Phoenix stopped 20 shots in the loss.  

The closest Slovakia has come to beating Canada in the world junior tournament was a 0-0 tie in Brandon, Man., in 1999.

""We lost the game tonight, but I thought we played well," Slovak coach Robert Petrovicky said. "We played hard."

Canada has Monday off before facing Switzerland (0-2) in Pool A on Tuesday. Finland (2-0) beat the Swiss 4-1 earlier Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Czech Repubic (1-1) bounced back from a 7-1 loss against Sweden (1-0) to upset Russia (1-1) in Sunday's late game -- creating some chaos in the Pool B standings with four teams now with a victory each, including the Americans (1-1-0).

The top four teams in each pool advance to quarterfinals Jan. 2, followed by semifinals Jan. 4 and the medal games Jan. 5.

Slovakia was a much tougher test for Canadians scorers than depleted Germany. 

"They had nothing to do with our d-zone. They just made shots from the blue-line and our guys blocked every shot," said Hlavaj, who is playing in his third world junior tournament.

The Canadians dominated puck possession and allowed Slovak puck carriers few clean entries into their zone.

Canada's attack lacked cohesion for much of the game, however, while Slovakia clogged up scoring lanes.

"Obviously we did want to create a little bit more offence, but we reminded our players they did a lot of good stuff and we're proud of them," Canadian head coach Andre Tourigny said.

Romiak's power-play goal at 18:36 of the third period pulled the Slovaks within a goal, but Quinn sealed the victory with an empty-netter.

Tomasino took a long pass from Dylan Cozens and beat Hlavaj with a high shot at 16:25 for a 2-0 lead.

Schneider served a one-game suspension Sunday for checking German forward Jan-Luca Schumacher in the head the previous day. 

Slovakia killed off a pair of Canadian power-play chances and Canada in turned kill off one Slovak man-advantage in the second period. 

Defenceman Bowen Byram levelled Slovak forward Jakub Kolenic on Canada's blue-line midway through the period.

Spence scored Canada's lone goal of the opening period at 4:08. 

The Australian-born defenceman from Cornwall, P.E.I., snared a Dawson Mercer rebound and beat Hlavaj with a wrist shot from the hash marks.

"It was unfortunate for Schneider to get suspended, but this morning, I was in the morning skate and I was just wanted to get my mind into it if I was playing," Spence said. 

 "There were a lot of emotions going on just being scratched from last game and coming back the next day and playing and scoring. It's amazing."

Canadian winger Dylan Holloway didn't dress for Sunday's game because of an upper-body injury. 

Captain Kirby Dach isn't playing in the tournament because of a wrist injury sustained in a pre-tournament game.

Cozens, who had a hat trick and six points against Germany, wore the captain's C on Sunday. He's alternating the captaincy with Byram.

The International Ice Hockey Federation announced Sunday there were no new positive tests for the COVID-19 virus among the teams and tournament personnel.

Three German players were released from quarantine Sunday to rejoin a team that iced just 14 skaters in its first two games.

Barring further positive tests, five more Germans will be released from isolation Tuesday with one player remaining in quarantine until Jan. 4.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 27, 2020.

The Canadian Press