In fact, it was a little slice of deja vu for the gifted 18-year-old forward from St. John’s, Newfoundland. He scored a hat trick, including the overtime winner, in a 6-5 pre-tournament exhibition victory over the Belarusians on 14 April.
So one week later, it felt befitting that Newhook supplied the back-breaking 3-0 goal with three seconds left in the first period. But if the captain of the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies in 2018-19 has secret sources of intelligence in Minsk, he wasn’t spilling the beans.
“I try to have the same effort every night,” said Newhook, who has three goals and three assists so far. “But having that effort against Belarus earlier and knowing we can be successful if we work hard and stick to our game plan was big. We definitely wanted to get back at them for having a close game against us in exhibition.”
Speaking of “close,” back in December and January, the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship came to Victoria. The British Columbia capital co-hosted the tournament with Vancouver. Fans at the packed Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre thrilled to the skills of tournament all-stars like Finnish goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Swedish defenceman Erik Brannstrom, and U.S. forward Ryan Poehling.
Alas, even though the Q Centre, the Grizzlies’ home rink, provided World Junior practice facilities, Newhook had other things on his mind.
“I didn't really get a chance to check out much of it,” Newhook explained. “We had a pretty busy schedule, and the World Junior A Challenge is around that time. But it was cool to have it there, and the attention and excitement around it was pretty cool.”
After being named the BCHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2018 with 66 points for the Grizzlies, the 180-cm, 86-kg sniper took another big step with 104 points this year. Named the 2019 BCHL MVP, he added 24 playoff points as Victoria marched to the semi-finals. It’s no wonder he cracked Team Canada West’s roster at the World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, Alberta (9 to 14 December). He scored four goals in six games en route to third place.
Now that Newhook has tasted official IIHF competition, is this prospective 2019 NHL first-round pick hungry to wear the red Maple Leaf again at next year’s World Juniors in the Czech Republic?
“For sure. The World Junior team is huge for anyone in their career. It's something you really look at as a kid, watching all the time. All the excitement around it in the whole country, it would be pretty special to be part of it and definitely something I'm working towards.”
If Newhook plays in the Boxing Day opener against the archrival Americans at the Ostravar Arena, he’ll be an unusual specimen, as he’s committed to Boston College for next season.
Historically, Hockey Canada leans on the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL for its World Junior rosters. For instance, this year, only two NCAA players – defenceman Ian Mitchell (University of Denver) and forward Shane Bowers (Boston University) – represented Canada. However, Newhook has had no qualms about going the Junior A plus college route.
“I'm very happy with my choice so far,” he said. “My two years in Victoria have been nothing but great for myself. I really enjoy the group of guys, and the league's a great league -- very skilled, very fast. I'm excited about going to college next year.”
Boston College has a sterling hockey reputation. From elite NHL scorers like Johnny Gaudreau and Cam Atkinson to Women’s Worlds gold medalists like Alex Carpenter and Emily Pfalzer, top talents are eager to put on an Eagles jersey.
Newhook, a hot commodity, explained how he picked Boston College: “I went down and had a look at a few schools in the Northeast region. I kind of wanted to stay in the East because I've been out West now for a bit. Hockey East is a great conference, and there are a lot of great schools in that Boston area. When I went to BC, it really felt like a place I could fit in. The coaching staff, campus and facilities all felt great. It's somewhere I'm really excited to go into and have a good few years there.”
While he may not know the identity of his future college roommate, he’s enjoying the one he’s got right now in Umea. It’s Canadian assistant captain Dylan Cozens, who led the way with two goals and three assists against Belarus. They’ve formed a dangerous line with captain Peyton Krebs.
Newhook praised Cozens, the Lethbridge Hurricanes’ top scorer (34+50=84 in 68 WHL games): “Great guy. We have a few laughs, and it's good to have that chemistry off the ice. It can lead to on-ice success. He's a great player. He sees the ice really well and moves the puck well. He's got that speed, he's got that drive. He's really fun to play with.”
Before games, this proud Newfie likes to get pumped up with his favourite J Cole rap songs. Away from the rink, he’ll relax with an occasional old-school movie like The Mighty Ducks. Yet his current focus is squarely on what coach Brett Gibson’s team must do to stay perfect against the Czech Republic in the Group A finale on Tuesday.
“We know they're a good team,” Newhook said. “They've had some good efforts so far this tournament. For us, we're just going to try to bring that same intensity, that same game we brought [against Belarus]. Hopefully it'll translate to a win for us and first in the group.”
Seeing how Canada is rolling with the help of Alex Newhook, that would be no surprise at all.