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Alexis Lafreniere returns in style to lift Canada into WJC semifinals

Canada's Barrett Hayton, left celebrates with teammate Alexis Lafreniere (11) after scoring the first goal against Slovakia. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)
Summary

Alexis Lafreniere made his presence known quickly and often during the quarterfinals to help Canada beat Slovakia 6-1

There was worry after he first went down with a knee injury last weekend against Russia

Canada has to wait for the other quarterfinal results to determine its opponent for the semifinals on Saturday

When Alexis Lafreniere first went down with a knee injury last weekend against Russia, there was a lot of worry for both his health and what a long-term injury would do for Canada’s chances at the world junior championship.

Just five days later, the projected No. 1 pick at the 2020 NHL Draft made his presence known quickly and often during the quarterfinals to help Canada beat Slovakia 6-1 on Thursday and advance into the tournament’s semifinals.

Canada will have to wait for the other quarterfinal results to determine its opponent for the semifinals on Saturday.

The Canadians, who were eliminated in the quarterfinals at last year’s tournament, return to the semis for the first time since 2018, when it beat Sweden for its 17th gold medal.

Lafreniere marked his return by getting in on the forecheck and launching body checks against his opponents. The solid forecheck helped Canada get its first goal by forcing a turnover behind the Slovak net before Lafreniere passed it out front to the slot where captain Barrett Hayton snapped it past goaltender Samuel Hlavaj.

And in the second period, he found the back of the net on the power play with a wrist shot to make it 5-0.

Having Lafreniere back and healthy was a major key to Canada’s success moving forward in the tournament. Sure, they did well in his absence against Germany and the Czech Republic, but to have a player of his calibre in games against elite competition in the semifinals and medal games, is crucial going forward.

Yes, Canada was a step above the competition all day long with its impressive speed and skill overmatching the opponent.