MALMO, Sweden — All Marvin Cupper could do was shake his head. It was a mix of disappointment and disbelief for the German goaltender after being shelled 7-2 by Canada in the opening game of the world junior hockey championship.
Cupper’s biggest foe was also a familiar one.
It was Anthony Mantha, a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League rival from the Val-d’Or Foreurs, who scored a hat trick to sink the Germans.
“He’s a great scorer,” said Cupper, who plays for the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataractes. “He knows where to be. He’s waiting backdoor always – just like in the Q – I know this, so I tried to get across (the net) but he’s always a step in front.
“He knows what to do, that’s obvious.”
It’s definitely obvious for anyone who has seen Mantha tear through the opposition this season with the Foreurs. He leads the entire Canadian Hockey League in scoring with 35 goals and 38 assists for 73 points in 32 games. The last time Canada had a player score a hat trick at the world junior tournament was two years ago – to the day – when Mark Stone recorded one against Finland in Edmonton.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Mantha. “For me, personally, I had to get a big game going today and that’s what I did.”
Canada (1-0) will now face the Czech Republic on Saturday. Canada head coach Brent Sutter was non-committal as to who would start that game – Jake Paterson, who made 22 saves against Germany, or Zach Fucale. It was a tough start for Canada as the Germans scored in the first minute and a half of the game after the puck appeared to hit a player screening Paterson.
“Obviously you don’t want to give up that early one,” said Paterson, who is a Red Wings prospect. “I think it was deflected in the slot somewhere and changed directions pretty quick. It was a tough one, but we scored pretty soon after that which was a lot of relief off of everyone’s shoulders.”
Paterson’s relief quickly became padded confidence once Mantha took control with one even strength marker and a pair of goals on the power play.
But despite all his scoring, there were still some who doubted Mantha deserved a spot in Team Canada’s line up. He was often referred to as being on the bubble for Sutter’s squad.
“He can certainly score goals,” said Sutter after the game. “But he needs to continue to work on the other side of it and doing the things he needs to do (defensively). That’s all part of becoming a good player and that’s all part of having consistency. … We need him to be a complete player and work on his complete game.”
The knock against Mantha for his lack of consistency isn’t new. There are times in seasons past where the 19-year-old would tear it up one night and float around the next making him frustrating to watch given his talents. The talk of his effort – or lack thereof – became heightened during the June NHL draft.
So was the criticism levelled at him warranted?
“It was fair,” said Mantha. “But I think I’m taking that off my name and I’ll continue to do so.”
The turning point, according to the native of Longueuil, Que., was when he was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings – 20th overall – and attended his first NHL camp. It was there where he really took notice of the kind of work ethic and dedication required to make it as a pro. He admits it’s still a work in progress and he’s hoping a good world junior tournament will help temper his critics.
“I’ve worked on it,” said Mantha, the grandson of former NHLer Andre Pronovost. “It’s huge because one little mistake over here could cost you the game. So for me it’s really to keep is simple and make every detail count.”
Sutter said he’s been having regular one-on-one conversations with Mantha about making sure his game is more responsible. He made it clear to Mantha that, “he’s not going to get on the ice if he’s just going to be a power play guy.” So far the big winger has taken the coach’s words to heart and Sutter says he’s has been impressed by the way Mantha has responded to his directions.
“He’s been really receptive,” said Sutter. “He’s really been a sponge to it and wants to learn that part of it and we’re going to continue to work with him on it. Tonight he was rewarded.”
At a towering 6-foot-5 and 204-pounds, it’s rare to see a player with that size have such deft, scoring hands. Even his teammates are left impressed by his prowess.
“He was awesome,” said forward Bo Horvat, who also scored for Canada. “He’s a special player. Not too many big guys have smooth hands like him. He definitely shows that off pretty well.
“Everyone knows Anthony can score goals.”