OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — Canada was already in big trouble before its superstar was felled by injury.
Now the national team will have to take a long look in the mirror and do some deep soul-searching after one of its worst-ever performances at the world junior hockey championship.
The Canadians were embarrassed 6-0 by Russia in a wire-to-wire drubbing Saturday, and the status of projected No. 1 NHL draft pick Alexis Lafreniere remains in up in the air after twisting his left knee in an awkward fall.
The 18-year-old was hurt early in the second period with Canada already down 3-0 as he cut to the net on a power play. Lafreniere bumped into Russian goalie Amir Miftakhov after being knocked slightly off balance by defenceman Yegor Zamula.
"On and off the ice, he's a leader," Canadian winger Ty Dellandrea said. "We all know what kind of player he is."
Head coach Dale Hunter didn't have any information on the extent of the injury, adding only that the native of Saint-Eustache, Que., was being evaluated.
Lafreniere, who had a goal and three assists in Canada's wild 6-4 victory over the United States on Thursday to open the under-20 event, lay writhing in pain clutching the joint before being attended to by the team's trainer inside a stunned Ostravar Arena.
He didn't put any weight on the knee as he was helped off the ice.
"It's tough to see a teammate, a brother go down like that," Canadian defenceman Ty Smith said. "He's an unbelievable player. It's even tougher when you see a guy like that go down."
While losing a talent like Lafreniere is a blow to any roster, Canada was second-best all night.
"You can't use excuses," Hunter said. "The Russians had a good game. We just have to learn from it and move on."
Saturday's dismantling marked the first time since Dec. 27, 1998, that Canada has been shut out at the world juniors — snapping a streak of 134 consecutive games.
"We're really disappointed," said captain Barrett Hayton, whose team faced the country's most difficult start to the tournament since 1980 with the U.S. and Russia back-to-back. "We weren't nearly good enough and the Russians played really well."
Nikita Alexandrov, with a goal and an assist, Alexander Khovanov, Pavel Dorofeyev, Nikita Rtischev, Yegor Sokolov and Grigory Denisenko scored for Russia, which rebounded in impressive fashion from a 4-3 upset loss to the host Czech Republic on Boxing Day.
Miftakhov, who started in place of Yaroslav Askarov after the 17-year-old phenom was pulled in that one, registered 28 saves for the shutout.
"We're hungry every game, it's world juniors," Khovanov said. "You wait almost your whole life to play these games."
Nico Daws allowed four goals on 18 shots for Canada before getting the hook in favour of Joel Hofer, who finished with 20 saves.
"No need to point fingers at the goalies," Smith said. "It starts with our group being ready to go."
In other Group B action, Germany stunned the Czechs 4-3 for the country's first victory at the tournament since late 2013.
The Canadians, Russians, Czechs, Americans and Germans all sit with 1-1 records in what was dubbed a "Group of Death" in the build-up. Canada will look to regroup Monday against upstart Germany, while Russia and the U.S. meet Sunday.
Canada fell 2-1 to the Russians in the final round-robin game of last year's tournament in Vancouver and Victoria, B.C., to set up a tough quarterfinal matchup with Finland. The hosts subsequently lost that one 2-1 in overtime to finish a disappointing sixth on home soil.
Coming off that emotional victory over the U.S. where they fell behind 2-0 in the first and scored late after blowing a 4-2 lead, the Canadians were once again on the back foot early.
The Russians, meanwhile, were left fuming during the post-game anthem ceremony when Hayton refused to remove his helmet. A couple of players refused to shake hands with Canada's captain before the teams left the ice.
"I'm sorry for leaving my helmet on for the Russian anthem following today's game and I apologize to the Russian team and its fans," Hayton said in a statement issued later Saturday.
"As a leader on this team, I was trying to process the game and evaluate how we can regroup. I was lost in the moment."
Khovanov opened things just 1:44 in when Daws couldn't track a shot off his blocker and fell backwards as the puck came to a rest just over the goal line.
Canada had a couple chances at the other end, but the Russians made it 2-0 at 10:14 when Dorofeyev found himself alone in front to roof a backhand.
The Canadians, who have won the world juniors a record 17 times, then killed a penalty, but Rtischev scored from the slot at 13:43 to make it 3-0.
"It's all about the start of the game," Smith said. "We didn't come out prepared to compete. They're a desperate team and we didn't match that intensity early.
"It just spiralled from there."
After losing Lafreniere early in the second, the shell-shocked Canadians gave up a fourth goal when Alexandrov swept in front and tucked a shot past Daws, who is playing in his first-ever international tournament, at 2:18 to end the netminder's night.
To make matters worse, the Russians jeered Daws as he exited the ice in favour of Hofer.
"You've got to let goalies battle," Hunter said when asked if he considered making a switch in the first intermission. "When they scored the fourth, then that changes."
Also green on this stage, Hofer made a couple saves after joining the fray, but Sokolov tipped a point shot home with 6:51 remaining in the second and the rout was truly on at 5-0.
Last year's bronze medallists kept coming, and Denisenko scored off the rush with 3:36 left in the period before jumping against the boards in celebration near one of the Maple Leaf flags dotting the pro-Canadian crowd.
The Russians were the superior team from start to finish after losing to the Czechs, but goaltending was Canada's biggest question mark coming into the tournament.
Now along with Lafreniere's uncertain status, that remains the case.
"We've got to put this behind us and learn from this, learn form what we did wrong," Dellandrea said. "A lot of teams that win this go through some sort of loss.
"We're fine here."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published by The Canadian Press on Dec. 28
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press