Dylan Guenther is all for elite players using every available tool at their disposal.
He’s one of them.
It’s when that skill stretches outside a team’s structure where issues can arise.
Canada attempted “The Michigan” move twice in the early stages of Monday’s embarrassing 5-2 opening-night loss to Czechia at the world junior hockey championship.
Adam Fantilli and Connor Bedard both came up snake eyes when they picked the puck up with their sticks behind the net and attempted to beat goaltender Tomas Suchanek in the near-side top corner with lacrosse-style efforts.
Guenther saw nothing wrong with either sequence in a vacuum.
But what they illustrated was how far the Canadians had already strayed from a supposed hard-nosed identity and game plan to accompany their high-end talent against an opponent that hadn’t registered a regulation victory against the tournament favourites in 23 previous meetings.
“We’re not going to ‘Michigan’ our way to the final,” Guenther, who scored previously using the same polarizing move in the Western Hockey League, said Tuesday at the team’s hotel. “We’re trying it a lot. It’s a skilled play. I get it. But I think that’s kind of how our game’s going right now.
“We’re trying to skill our way through it. We’re trying to toe-drag, beat guys one-on-one.”
One of three players loaned to Canada for the men’s under-20 showcase by NHL clubs, the Arizona Coyotes forward speaks from a position of authority.
“You have to play the right way,” said Guenther, who has 11 points in 21 NHL games this season. “Play together and play as a team. It starts with the simple side of the game — winning battles. Our skill … there’s no problem.
“It’s the compete level.”
Canadian head coach Dennis Williams also has no issues with hockey’s most-skilled generation to date going for the audacious — as long the timing is appropriate.
“Would like to have seen us do a better job of getting to the paint, getting to the tough areas, focusing more on the way we want to play,” he said. “We were perimeter, and so to go to ‘The Michigan’ play … sometimes there’s a little bit better play to make.”
Canadian forward Logan Stankoven doesn’t have that move on his mind in the heat of the action.
“It’s great to see the game evolving,” said the Dallas Stars draft pick. “When we need a goal or when the game is tight like that, maybe it’s not a time.”
The owner of mesmerizing skill and projected to go No. 1 at the 2023 NHL draft, Bedard also attempted the move in pre-tournament action, while Fantilli — another likely top-5 pick — has succeeded on the highlight-reel play first made famous by University of Michigan forward Mike Legg in 1996.
“Some people may think it’s individualistic, some people think it’s a good scoring chance from behind the net,” said Fantilli, in his first season at Michigan. “There’s a limit to how many times you can try it in a game and how many times you can try it in a tournament.
“It could be a good scoring chance, but sometimes you’ve got to know when to curl back and make the right play.”
An undisciplined, disjointed Canada didn’t make many against the Czechs on a humbling night in front of the first Maritime world junior crowd in two decades.
“It doesn’t define us,” said Williams, whose team had a scheduled day off the ice Tuesday. “This could be the best thing that happens for our group — understand that we just don’t put on our skates and win hockey games. We have to compete, we have to battle, we have to manage pucks, we have to be physical, we’ve got to stay out of the penalty box.
“I’m hoping the players accept our challenge.”
Canada has gone with the same forward lines since cuts were made following selection camp, but Williams indicated there will be changes when his team suits up Wednesday against Germany.
Thomas Milic, meanwhile, will get the start in goal after stopping all 10 shots he faced Monday in relief of Benjamin Gaudreau.
“Super excited,” Millic said. “Something that every goalie dreams of.”
The netminder also had a front-row seat to his teammates’ effort against the Czechs, and echoed a lot their sentiments.
“Not enough of anything, really,” Milic said. “Guys were, I think, maybe taking them a little too lightly.
“Need to dial in some details and re-establish our foundations.”
That includes preparation.
“There’s a difference between being loose and having fun and being ready to go,” Guenther said. “We were on the loose side. It’s obviously not one day that that happens — it’s leading up to it.
“Collectively, we have to be better.”
While there was plenty of doom and gloom on the outside, the sun still rose in cloudy Halifax on Tuesday.
Guenther saw a silver lining.
“First and foremost, that’s not us,” he said of the Czech horror show. “That’s not who we are. It’s not that we have to reinvent the wheel. It’s stuff that we should be doing every day.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 27, 2022.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press