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After taking first in Group B round robin play, Team Canada starts the road to gold against Slovakia.

Canada v Slovakia: Exhibition - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

Five days ago, Canada’s tournament looked like it was coming to a rather sobering halt. They got their lunch fed to them by Russia in a 6-0 shocker, and lost their best player, Alexis Lafrenierre to injury. They responded with 2 straight wins against Germany and the Czech Republic, and now, with elimination on the line against Slovakia, they’ll be getting Lafrenierre back for the game.

It seems rather improbable that he could be good to go, but Team Canada’s medical staff have deemed the expected 1st overall pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft to be ready to return. And this isn’t just a boost skill-wise to Canada’s lineup, it’s an emotional lift for a team that responded well to the loss of the player who was supposed to lead the way for them at this year’s tournament.

Slovakia finished 4th in Group A, their only win coming against Kazakhstan, and drew Canada as a reward. That’s not to say this game will be a cakewalk for the Canadians, and they’ll need to be focused and not get caught looking ahead to a possible semifinal opponent. History is littered with upsets, and Canada will do well to stick to what got them here: Keep their opponents to the perimeter, use their size and speed to draw penalties, and then make them pay on the ensuing power plays. The Russians are just starting the 3rd period against Switzerland right now with a 3-1 lead, and later today the USA plays Finland, while the Swedes take on the host Czechs.