Just getting to the world juniors was a meat grinder for teams this year and Canada was certainly no exception. An extended training camp was perforated in the middle by Covid cases, leading to a camp-wide quarantine. For Colorado Avalanche prospect Alex Newhook, the camp had already been a mental test since he had been isolated away from the rest of the players with fellow NCAA kids Devon Levi and Dylan Holloway. Newhook also missed the quarterfinal against the Czechs due to injury, but none of that matters right now: he got the goal that put Canada into the gold medal game.
Newhook's wicked shot less than a minute into the game was so quick that even he didn't know it went in and it took a video review to confirm his laser, the first of four shots that punctured Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov on the night. In the end, Canada sailed to a 5-0 victory, capped off by an empty-netter, but Newhook set the tone and his overall play was indicative of the Canadians' dominance over a Russian squad that never really seemed to peak in this tournament.
"It's his quickness and his speed," said coach Andre Tourigny. "He has quick hands and he works really hard. Today he was always on the right side of the puck, he caught a lot of plays, he was really responsible defensively, he got on the forecheck with his speed and he's strong physically. He has a lot of tools that make him special."
What's most amazing is that Newhook hadn't played a game yet this season before the tourney. He's a sophomore at Boston College, but the Eagles were grounded by Covid until Nov. 27, when their season finally got underway against UMass. By then, Newhook was already off to world junior camp in Alberta. That long training camp and isolation was hard, but the talented forward saw the bigger picture throughout.
"Everyone here has given up a lot to be here and made sacrifices," Newhook said. "Everyone had to come early and we went through some long periods, but it's easy to go through those with other guys. We all had the same positive mindset that it will lead us somewhere. Having that and looking forward to the tournament and being excited for it the whole time really pushed us to get through it and stay positive during the hard times."
In fact, that isolation may have strengthened this group.
"Having a lot of time before the tournament really helped us get closer together as a group," Newhook said. "In these tournaments, that goes such a long way and I think it's been showing in the games: we trust each other on and off the ice and we trust each other to get the job done."
One of the reasons Canada has been so unstoppable in this tournament is that so many forwards have stepped up from game to game. Yes, Dylan Cozens is the scoring leader, but Newhook is one of many Canadians who have registered more than a point per game - he himself sits at three goals and six points through five outings. And all the forwards have been playing tenacious 'D' to make matters worse for opponents.
"It makes us that much harder to play against when we track that hard," Newhook said. "We take just as much pride in our defensive game as we do in our offensive game. It's been stressed since Day 1 that that mentality in our game would be huge for us and it has been, no doubt."
As a freshman with Boston College, Newhook was fantastic in netting 42 points in 34 games. No doubt he'll be just as effective once he returns to the college ranks and given how good his two-way game is already, it feels like it won't be long before he's vying for a job in the NHL with Colorado. And since the Avs are loaded with talent already, that's a pretty fun thought for fans in Denver - and a scary notion for the rest of the league.
As for the pressure of playing for gold with all of Canada watching from home? Newhook is only feeling the love.
"It's not really that the pressure is on us," he said. "We have all Canadians behind us and it's cool to feel that."