But a three-goal burst in the final five minutes gave Canada a 3-2 win over co-host Slovakia on Wednesday and a boost of confidence heading into the semifinals.
Captain Sam Reinhart scored the winner with just 53 seconds left in regulation as Canada finished the preliminary round on top of its group with a 3-0 record.
"We had a really good chance just throwing a bouncer on net and the goalie got back and just made a great save on it," said Reinhart. "We regrouped on the faceoff and just started getting pucks in the net again, and soon after we had a mini break and (the puck) just went in off the goalie's glove and over him."
Ryan Kujawinski and Josh Morrissey also scored in the final five minutes for Canada, making up for the team's disinterested start.
"We played like we were though for the first period," Gill said. "Finally we kicked it up a notch but we just couldn't put the puck past their goalie."
Slovak goaltender Maros Mikolas was stellar, stopping 33 shots.
"Hats off to their goalie, he played an outstanding game," Reinhart said. "He stopped quite a few shots, but we were able to get a few bounces our way and finally get the victory."
Slovakia got off to a quick start when Kristian Horvat scored just 1:40 into the game. The Slovaks continued to play a patient game controlling the neutral zone, and it paid off when Martin Ambroz put Slovakia up 2-0 late in the second period.
"I give (Slovakia) credit, they played a hell of a game," Gill said. "Great game plan, they frustrated us. The thing I liked about our kids though is they battled through adversity and we battled our way back to win the hockey game."
Kujawinski finally got Canada on the board with a goal at 16:15 of the third period, and the offence took over from there.
Morrissey tied the game with a power-play goal at 17:07 of the third, setting the stage for Reinhart's winner.
"The No. 1 thing I think for Canada is we have all our best players here, and when we hit some adversity, individualism kicks in," Gill said. "It's not because they're selfish, they just want to do something to get us over the hump.
"That happened in the first two periods, and in the third we started playing our system, and we were all over them and were lucky enough to get the three goals."
Eric Comrie made 21 saves for Canada.
The Canadians have dominated this event, having won it the last four years and 16 times overall since 1991.Suggest a correction