Michael Traikos, Postmedia Network
, Last Updated: 4:29 PM ET
MONTREAL — To be honest, Dylan Strome isn’t looking to become a hero.
The job’s too darn stressful, he said.
When it comes to the world junior championship, Canada has a rich history of players who have stepped up and scored big-time goals.
Think back to 2007, when Jonathan Toews scored not one, not two, but three separate shootout goals in a semifinal win over the Americans. Two years later, Jordan Eberle became a household name when he miraculously forced overtime with a backhand deke in the dying seconds of a semifinal against Russia.
With his talent and offensive ability, Strome has the power to pull off something similar when Canada faces Sweden in Wednesday’s final four showdown. And yet, the 19-year-old captain would be just as happy with another run-of-the-mill victory.
“I think if you asked our whole team, I’d like it to be a not-closer game than that,” Strome said.
“Obviously, those are some pretty tense moments in those types of games. You’re pretty scared on the bench. I’m sure those guys were nervous on the bench in those types of moments. We’re going to try to make it a game where we feel comfortable throughout the whole thing and we can get a lead and then play with that the rest of the game.”
In other words, Strome is fine with being just one of 13 forwards. You could argue that so far he’s been just that.
Though Strome is tied for third in tournament scoring with eight points, the points have come quietly. All but two are from time on the power play, including both his goals, which were scored in the first game of the tournament. He had four points against lowly Latvia, but just one assist in the 3-1 loss to the U.S. on New Year’s Eve and was held off the scoresheet in the quarterfinal win over the Czech Republic.
As the biggest name in the tournament — and Canada’s best forward — it has been a somewhat underwhelming world juniors for the third-overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft. Having now gone four games without a goal, it’s been downright disappointing.
This is a player who as a 17-year-old led the Ontario Hockey League with 129 points in 2014-15; who scored four goals in five games at last year’s world juniors; and who came into this year’s under-20 tournament with seven NHL games under his belt.
Strome should be taking over this tournament in the way that Sweden’s Alexander Nylander — the tournament leader in points with 11 — has been. At the very least, Strome should have more than two even-strength points.
If Strome is concerned about the lack of offence coming from himself and ultra-talented Mathew Barzal, who also has one assist in the last two games, he isn’t showing it.
“It’s nice,” said Strome. “We’ve been talking all tournament about how we’re a four-line team. I think we proved that (in the quarterfinal). Our line and Barzal’s line doesn’t get any points, but we come away with the 5-3 win. It’s a positive, I think.”
The four-line approach is a nice thought. But it rarely works out that way.
Sure, you might be able to rely on Mitchell Stephens or Julien Gauthier to carry the offensive load against a weaker team like the Czech Republic. And against Slovakia or Latvia, almost everyone is bound to chip in. But it’s no coincidence that Strome scored twice when Canada defeated Russia yet managed only one assist in the loss to the Americans.
In a best-on-best scenario, you need your best players to perform. It is why a Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi-led Finland won gold last year. And it is why Sweden has been the team to beat this time around.
The good news for Strome is that there is still time. Time to embrace the spotlight and time to put his name alongside Toews and Eberle as another semifinal hero.
“It means a lot,” Strome said of advancing this far. “It’s the semifinal of the world juniors, something I’ve never experienced. It’s my first time here, it’s all our first time here, and we’re going to learn together and be a team together.
“I’m just going to go in with an open mind, and be ready for anything.”
NO SIBLING ADVICE
With an older brother who is already an established NHL forward, Dylan Strome has often picked his sibling’s brain during different stages of his career.
But don’t expect Dylan to seek Ryan’s advice heading into Wednesday’s semifinal versus Sweden.
“He’s never won a semifinals either, so we’re sort of in the same boat,” said Dylan Strome.
Indeed, Ryan Strome was part of the Canadian team that won a bronze medal at the 2012 world juniors after losing 6-5 in the semifinal to Russia. A year later, he lost 5-1 to the United States in the semifinal and then lost to Russia in the bronze-medal game.
“We’re Team Canada, we’re here to win a gold medal,” he added. “I think that’s pretty obvious. That’s what’s expected of us. And that’s a good feeling to have, a good honour to have.”