Dylan Cozens applied grit and goals to Canada’s 4-1 win over Finland at the world junior men’s hockey championship on Thursday.
The Canadian co-captain scored twice, including a hard-working empty-net goal.
The host country went unbeaten in four preliminary-round games to top Pool A.
Canada drew the Czech Republic, the No. 4 seed in Pool B, for Saturday’s quarter-finals.
WATCH | Canada closes out group play with win over Finland:
Dylan Holloway and Peyton Krebs also scored for the defending champions at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Canadian goaltender Devon Levi stopped 18-of-19 shots for his fourth win of the tournament.
Brad Lambert scored for Finland (3-1).
Karri Piiroinen, who played for the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires last season, had 36 saves in the loss.
Canada and Finland cruised through the preliminary round with three straight wins apiece and outscored their opposition a combined 44-7.
Their New Year’s Eve matchup was each country’s toughest test of the tournament so far, with Canada earning the higher grade.
WATCH | U.S. downs Sweden to end preliminary round:
Canada dominated puck possession, scoring three unanswered goals over two periods before the Finns replied in the third.
“We came out and played our best game so far,” Cozens said. “We reloaded hard on pucks. They had a tough time getting out of their zone and that was all because of our track and our reload.
“We did a real good job getting to the inside tonight and getting to the front of the net and battling there. That’s something we improved a lot in this game. We’d been a little perimeter so far, but today we got inside and we threw a lot more [pucks] on net.”
The top four teams in each pool advance to the quarter-finals. Finland will face Sweden who lost 4-0 to the United States later Thursday.
Czech Republic blanks Austria
In earlier action, Czech Republic clinched its spot in the quarter-finals with a 7-0 win over Austria.
The Czech Republic went 2-2 in the preliminary round to lock up fourth place in five-team Group B. Austria was 0-4 this year and has not won any of its 21 games at the top level of the tournament.
Austria scored just one goal in four games overall.
The Czech Republic outshot Austria 61-15.
Martin Lang had two goals for the Czech Republic, while Simon Kubicek, Filip Prikryl, Pavel Novak, David Juricek and Jan Mysak added singles.
WATCH | Czech Republic tops Austria 7-0:
With a 2-1-0-1 record (wins, overtime wins, overtime losses, losses) Russia finished second in Pool B.
Pool A third-seed Germany (1-1-0-2) draws Russia, while No. 4 Slovakia (1-0-1-2) will face Pool B top-seeded United States to round out the quarter-final matchups.
The semifinals are Monday followed by Tuesday’s medal games at Rogers Place.
Cozens is alternating the captaincy with Bowen Byram in the absence of injured Kirby Dach.
Cozens scored Canada’s first and final goals against Finland and now leads the tournament with six.
With Piiroinen pulled for an extra attacker late in the third, the Buffalo Sabres prospect from Whitehorse pursued the puck through the neutral zone and fought off Kasper Puutio to get a shot away at the empty net.
“What I like about Coz is his compete level,” Canadian head coach Andre Tourigny said. “He wants to be a difference maker.
“He’s a big-moment player, a key player and a guy we can trust when the pressure is high.”
Canada’s relentless forecheck hemmed the Finns in their own zone for long stretches.
“That was beautiful,” Tourigny said. “We applied a lot of pressure. Not just doing it, but sustaining it.
“We were expecting the Finns to push back, which they did. We had an answer for it.”
A gap in Canada’s game, however, was an 0-for-5 power play.
“We forced it a little bit,” Tourigny said. “We missed the net on a few scoring chances. I think we did a lot of good things but at some points we forced a few plays.
“At some point we need to simplify, but the structure is pretty good.”
Finland lost defenceman Ville Heinola in the third period when the Winnipeg Jets draft pick blocked a shot with his hand and went to the dressing room.
WATCH | Canada’s Alex Newhook exits game after collision:
Canada’s Alex Newhook also left the game and didn’t return. The forward was checked hard by Eemil Viro in the first period and suffered what looked like a shoulder injury.
Neither team provided an update on their injured player following the game.
It was all Canada in the opening period with hard pace and pressure in Finland’s zone and a 17-1 margin in shots, but just a one-goal lead heading into the second.
“At the start of the game we weren’t ready at all,” Finnish head coach Antti Pennanen said.
“Team Canada was so good. They played at good speed. They win all the battles and they win the loose pucks. We tried to improve those things. I think we did, but not enough.”
Switzerland and Austria went winless in the tournament to finish outside the quarter-finals. The two countries won’t play a relegation round.