Colton Point, making his Team Canada debut, stopped 20 mostly harmless shots to record the shutout.
Jonah Gadjovich had two goals while Jordan Kyrou had a goal and two assists to take over the tournament scoring lead with four points.
"I thought that we got better as the game went on," Gadjovich remarked, "and I think we’ve gotten better every period. We’re doing well in building our game, and I thought I did well contributing in all areas of the ice. It’s special. You watch guys from the past who have scored, and it means a lot to help our country."
Steel agreed. "We’re building. Each and every period, we want to get better. We didn’t have quite the effort we wanted yesterday, but I thought tonight we got better every period. We’re going in the right direction."
The result couldn’t have been a surprise given that Canada has never lost to Slovakia in 20 years of U20 play. The record is now 12 wins and a tie, and that small sign of life from Slovakia was only a scoreless draw in 1998.
Canada now has two days off to prepare for its monumental showdown with the U.S., outdoors at New Era Field. The Slovaks play those same Americans tomorrow night, indoors, at Key Bank Center.
Tonight, Canada showed great speed and puck pursuit, using superior tenacity and strength to claim most of the loose pucks and maintain possession.
Steel’s opening marker came off a deflected pass in the slot. The puck wound up on his stick with goalie David Hrenak looking for a shot the other way. Steel had an open net, which he hit, at 3:39.
There was a scary moment midway through the period when Canadian defenceman Jake Bean went back for a puck on the end boards. He got tangled up with Slovakian forward Marian Studenic. The pair crashed into the boards, Bean’s head absorbing most of the force. After several minutes he left of his own accord but didn’t return for the rest of the period as a cautionary measure.
Canada poured it on in the second. Kyrou made a sneaky deke on Erik Smolka in the slot before beating Hrenak with a nice shot at 1:24 on the power play, and Gadjovich backhanded a juicy rebound into the net to make it 3-0 at 5:43.
Taylor Raddysh got to another rebound at 10:33 to put the game out of reach, frustrating the Slovak goaltender who didn’t get much help from his defence.
Raddysh and Gadjovich closed out the scoring late in the third off great plays. In the former, Adam Ruzicka lost the puck deep in his end, and Raddysh colected the loose puck and roofed a backhand to the short side over Hrenak's glove for a gem of a score.
Then Michael McLeod made a great backhand saucer pass from the left wing boards which Gadjovich tipped high from in front at 18:30 to make it 6-0. Game, set, match.
"I went in and did my best," said Hrenak, whose only previous IIHF experience was one game in the 2016 U18. "I think I didn’t play badly, but a couple of goals I gave up were not too good. Now we have to forget about this game and focus on the game we’re playing tomorrow. I think that’s the most important thing we have to do."
Nicolas Muller and Valentin Nussbaumer also scored for Switzerland. For Belarus, Maxim Sushko had a goal and an assist and Viktor Bovbel had the other goal.
"It was a tough game but we won, and that's the most important thing," said Kurashev.
It was the second straight loss for newly promoted Belarus, whose starting goalie Andrei Grishenko performed valiantly as shots on goal favored Switzerland 40-29.
"Our start was not so good," said Belarus's Igor Martynov. "We had a lot of mistakes and gave up a goal. But then we managed to play better. However, the last two goals broke our game. We should play better, we should fight, we should attack. Then I think everything will be OK."
Diligent and disciplined as always, the Swiss lack a Nico Hischier-style game-breaker this year, and are looking for scoring by committee.
"We didn't take advantage of our chances in the first two periods and that made it tough for us," said captain Nando Eggenberger. "In the third, we were much more effective. We have to score on our chances, especially the rest of the tournament as the games get more important. We had a lot of shots but not many goals."
Both teams will face Russia next, Switzerland on Thursday, and Belarus on Friday.
"The game against Russia tomorrow will be another challenge, and we have to play even better than we did today," said Nussbaumer. "I think we can win."
The Swiss took it to Belarus from the opening faceoff, peppering Grishenko. At 8:07, Muller was credited with the first goal after the puck trickled through the goalie’s legs in a scrum.
With under two minutes left in the first period, Grishenko extended his left leg to make a great desperation save on Swiss assistant captain Marco Miranda.
Late in the period, Belarus rallied. Sushko, the Belarus captain, got two cracks at the rebound from Vladislav Martynyuk’s blue line drive and put the second one past Swiss netminder Philip Wuthrich to tie the game up at 18:34.
After a scoreless second period, Belarus grabbed the lead on an early third-period power play when the Swiss were caught with too many men on the ice. At 4:25, Bovbel banged in a rebound and celebrated wildly even though his helmet was nearly knocked off by Swiss defenceman Nico Gross.
Nussbaumer, the youngest player on the Swiss team (born 25 September, 2000), knotted it at 2-2 at 8:12, deking in front of Grishenko before scoring on the short side.
On the rush, Kurashev blasted home Switzerland's 3-2 goal from the slot with a one-timer set up by Guillaume Maillard at 11:16 of the third.
"I just tried to put the puck on net," said Kurashev. "I got a shot off quickly, and it went off the post and in. I'm happy."
Belarus pulled Grishenko for the extra attacker in the final minute, but despite a wild flurry around Wuthrich's cage in the dying seconds, they couldn't equalize.
Switzerland has won all eight of its World Junior games with Belarus, dating back to 1998.
Belarus’s last World Junior victory came on January 3, 2007 (3-1 over Germany) in Mora, Sweden.
Fan favorite Casey Mittelstadt and Kieffer Bellows delivered two goals apiece. Patrick Harper and Max Jones each had a goal and an assist, and Kailer Yamamoto, Andrew Peeke and Dylan Samberg also scored for the United States. Quinn Hughes and Josh Norris had two assists apiece. The U.S. outshot Denmark 36-17.
"We came out ready to go," said Mittelstadt. "We got a nice goal from Jonesy right away to start it off. That got us rolling. In a tournament like this, it’s big to get the first one."
Goalie Joseph Woll, who backed up Tyler Parsons for last year’s gold-medal team, recorded his first career World Junior shutout and third win. Danish starter Kasper Krog, whose 91.9 save percentage was third-best among 2017 goalies, will have a hard time cleaning up his stats in Buffalo. He only allowed nine goals in total last year.
The Danes are seeking their fourth consecutive quarter-final berth, but set the wrong tone at Key Bank Arena. This was their third all-time meeting with the Americans. Although not favored to prevail, they would have preferred to at least keep the score closer to their previous encounter (a 4-1 U.S. win on 31 December 2015) than their inaugural flop (an 11-3 U.S. win on 26 December 2011).
Denmark will try to rebound versus Finland on Thursday, while the Americans take on Slovakia that day.
"Obviously there’s a target on our back," said Bellows. "There always is with us being USA Hockey. We’re rising up right now. We have to come to every game prepared like it’s our last."
Featuring seven returning players, the U.S. ruthlessly exploited the holes in Denmark’s coverage and was full value for the win.
It took just 2:27 for the host nation to draw first blood, as Jones cut to the slot past Danish defenders and slid the puck home. At 5:04, Bellows made it 2-0 with the man advantage, squeezing a heavy wrister from the right faceoff circle past Krog.
Coach Bob Motzko’s crew capitalized on the power play again at 8:26, as Mittelstadt, like Jones before him, celebrated his first career World Junior goal. The partisan crowd roared as Mittelstadt, a University of Minnesota star, was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres (first round, eighth overall) this year.
"I have really high expectations of myself and I expect myself to play to the best of my ability, whether it’s here or not," said Mittelstadt. "Coming to Buffalo is a little bit of a cherry on top."
The American pressure and precision was overwhelming. In Gretzky-like fashion, Brady Tkachuk centered the puck from behind the net to Yamamoto, who made no mistake for a 4-0 lead at 11:35.
Denmark got its first man advantage when Will Lockwood was sent off for interference after steamrolling Valdemar Ahlberg in the corner, but it was fruitless. With 1:12 left in the first period, Mittelstadt cruised to the side of the net and casually roofed Patrick Harper’s feed past Krog.
Although Krog had surrendered five goals on 13 shots, Danish coach Olaf Eller (the father of Lars Eller of the Washington Capitals) kept his starter in for the second period. After being hooked on a breakaway, Bellows made it 6-0 on a penalty shot at 4:08, curling in from the left side to put a backhand through Krog’s legs.
At 19:31, Harper added the seventh goal on a high wrist shot that fooled Krog through traffic.
Woll said of his quiet night: "In this kind of game, you just have to keep your focus. It’s a good test mentally and physically to stay warm and keep your body alert."
Backup goalie Emil Gransoe finally replaced Krog in the third period, but it made no difference as Peeke and Samberg rounded out the scoring.