Power reaching new heights
by Lucas Aykroyd|28 DEC 2021
In a 6-3 win over the Czech Republic in Edmonton, Owen Power (#25) became the first Canadian defenceman in World Junior history to score a hat trick.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
What does Team Canada defenceman Owen Power have in common with Nicklas Backstrom, Patrice Bergeron, Marian Hossa, Yevgeni Malkin, and Alexander Ovechkin?

Hmm. The 2021 number one overall choice of the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL Entry Draft doesn’t own a Stanley Cup ring. Heck, he doesn’t even have a NHL game under his belt yet. And it seems unlikely that the University of Michigan star will switch from defence to forward.

However, Power is one of those rare talents who suited up at an IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship before getting to play at the World Juniors, just like the five aforementioned legends. He’s come a long way since spending two seasons with the USHL’s Chicago Steel, where he totalled 65 points in 103 games in 2018-19 and 2019-20. He’s reaped early comparisons to everyone from Alex Pietrangelo to Victor Hedman.

Canada’s Dave Cameron, seeking his first World Junior gold medal as a head coach after settling for silver in 2011 in Buffalo, is a fan of what he’s seen so far from Power.

“His passing, skating, and shooting, it speaks for itself,” Cameron said. “He’s a leader. It’s the whole balance that he brings. He’s able to keep that even keel. He’s done it at the [2021] Worlds, he’s done it at Michigan, he started here like that at the World Juniors, and we expect him to continue that. It’s the ability to play a high-performance game with calmness. I’m not sure you can teach that.”

While the towering 19-year-old still has room for growth in his game, he’s already forged a mini-legend of his own by winning gold at the men’s Worlds in Latvia in June and scoring a hat trick in his very first World Junior game, a 6-3 comeback win over Czechia on Tuesday. That made Power the first Canadian rearguard in World Junior history to get three goals in one game.
“Obviously it's been really busy the last year,” Power said in a bashful understatement after the opening victory.

Think about that hat trick. To name just a few, Canada’s World Junior blue line has boasted offensive weapons like Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Shea Weber, Morgan Rielly, and Cale Makar over the decades. Even factoring in the differences between eras, players like these certainly got the minutes and opportunities they’d need to fill the net against teams weaker than the 2022 Czechs. But no hat tricks for them.

Power’s feat becomes even more impressive when you consider the state of international U20 goaltending. It’s better than ever. Also, the days of World Junior domination by one or two teams – like the Soviets in the late 1970s or Canada in the 1990s or 2000s – are in the rear view mirror, as we haven’t had a repeat champ since Canada’s five-peat from 2005 to 2009. Canada is one of several gold-medal contenders here.

One of Power’s advantages is his versatility and willingness to learn and try different things. It goes beyond choosing sports management as his major at Michigan.

The value of being a multi-sport athlete is sometimes lost on young players in today’s culture of 12-months-a-year hockey training. Power played volleyball and basketball in high school, but Canada’s official summer sport really captured his heart when he wasn’t on skates. In fact, the native of Mississauga, Ontario earned three national lacrosse championships.

“He was a real good box lacrosse player, and my discussion with him around that was how much that taught how about how to roll off checks, basically how not to panic under pressure,” Cameron said.

Whether this 196-cm, 96-kg star is partnered at the Worlds with Troy Stecher, a diminutive journeyman whose fanatical commitment to conditioning and studying the game has put him into 336 NHL games, or at the World Juniors with Ronan Seeley, the captain of the WHL’s Everett Silvertips and a swift-skating Carolina Hurricanes prospect, Power looks equally at ease.
It’s what enabled him to go from getting a paltry 7:58 of ice time in the opening 2-0 loss to host Latvia at the Worlds to logging 24:47 in the thrilling 3-2 overtime win over the Finns in the gold medal game. Power was also named Canada’s player of the game in the 2-1 quarter-final ouster of Russia, in which he totalled 24:02 before Stecher’s deke-fest of a solo jaunt spawned MVP Andrew Mangiapane’s sudden-death winner. Clearly, Power earned the trust of head coach Gerard Gallant, just as he’s doing under Cameron in Edmonton.

Hockey isn’t always going to be sunshine and roses for Power. With the Sabres, he will join a franchise that has not made the playoffs since 2010-11 and is a long way from making its third all-time Stanley Cup finals appearance (1975, 1999). Even if Power bears a resemblance to Clark Kent with his glasses on, he can’t be expected to save Buffalo like Superman, considering how tough it’s been for other first-round picks like Rasmus Dahlin (drafted #1 overall) and Rasmus Ristolainen (#8 overall in 2013).

Again, that maturity comes into play. Power demonstrated it when Michigan chose not to release him for the 2021 World Juniors, citing academic requirements and cross-border COVID-19 concerns. He didn’t pout. He just kept on trucking and cracked both the NCAA Big 10 all-rookie team and second all-star team.
“Owen has handled this much better than I would’ve when I was 17 going on 18,” Wolverines head coach Mel Pearson told the Detroit News in November 2020. “He said, ‘You know, coach, I’m disappointed but happy to be here at Michigan. I’m all in and looking forward to the next 10 games before Christmas.’”

Power may get a belated Christmas present this season. And it’s something bigger than even, say, getting bragging rights with Kent Johnson if those two triumph over fellow Michigan talents Matty Beniers, Mackie Samoskevich, and Luke Hughes in a Canada-U.S. gold medal game on 5 January.

Given his international experience and the NHL’s withdrawal from the 2022 Olympics, Power should at least receive consideration from the Hockey Canada braintrust as they prepare an alternative roster for Beijing.

It’s worth recalling that at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea Canada’s non-NHL squad barely fell shy of making the gold medal game. A third-period rally on goals by Mat Robinson and Derek Roy brought them to 4-3 with just over 10 minutes left in the semi-final against Germany. Unfortunately, they couldn’t complete the comeback and settled for bronze with a 6-4 win over Czechia. A young workhorse on defence like Power might be just the ticket to put Canada over the top in ‘22.

Backstrom, Bergeron, Hossa, Malkin, and Ovechkin have combined for nine Stanley Cup rings – not mention their individual trophy cases. Approaching their NHL greatness will take time, even if Power finds himself in a top-pairing situation in Buffalo soon.

Still, any way you slice it, after ruling the ice in 2021, Owen Power could be poised for a golden IIHF start to 2022.