Knowing they would face Sweden in the semi-final with a win, Canada and Czech Republic battled it out in the fourth and final quarter-final matchup of the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship.
If you hadn’t known the stakes, you never would have guessed this was a one-game elimination contest in an international tournament, as neither side seemed to be playing at the level you’d expect this far into a championship event. The first 14 minutes, “uninspired, to say the least“ in the words of TSN host James Duthie, left the Bell Centre fans wanting much more.
They got a chance to see some action as Canada was awarded a late-period power play, but Canada didn’t oblige, instead spending nearly the entirety of the two minutes regrouping in the their own end and launching failed attempts to get the puck into the Czechs’ zone.
With the confidence of having handily parried the Canadian man advantage, the Czech Republic got some offensive-zone time, and launched the puck toward the goal with traffic in front. The initial shot was so high it bounced off the head of a player trying to set a screen, but so hard that it deflected right to the other side of the ice. There, it hit the referee who was in good position to see the action near the crease, but in poor position to avoid the redirected puck, and it bounced off his body and lay right in front of the net. David Kase pounced on the loose puck before Canadian goaltender Connor Ingram located it, and fired it into a partially open net to give the Czechs the first goal of the game.
Kase scores after a nice assist by the referee. 1-0 Czech Republic. pic.twitter.com/10jFXrQG68— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) January 3, 2017
The response of the home side wasn’t at the level it should have been for a favoured team facing a deficit, and the crowd let the young club know it as they held the puck behind their own net waiting for the final seconds to tick off the clock in the opening frame.
Canada got another shot on the power play shortly after the second period began, and this time they looked much more interested in claiming the win. The team got set up in the zone and used quick movement and passing to get several good scoring chances, firing a handful of shots on Czech goaltender Jakub Škarek. Though they didn’t score, they got a lot of momentum, and that carried over after the penalty expired.
It didn’t take long for Canada to hit the scoreboard with the relentless offensive pressure, as Mitchell Stephens got the puck along the wall and whipped it to the front of the crease. Blake Speers was in perfect position to redirect the pass, sending it five-hole on Škarek and tying the game at one goal apiece.
The pressure didn’t let up, as Canada played the next several minutes exclusively in the offensive zone. The attack led to a faceoff in the Czech end with about seven minutes gone in the period, and a Canadian win by Anthony Cirelli dropped the puck right onto Stephens’ stick in the slot. He ripped one over the head of the Czech goalie to give Canada its first lead.
Mitchell Stephens scores immediately after the draw. We used to score these all the time in NHL 15. pic.twitter.com/er1iguyuKx— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) January 3, 2017
Encouraged by the goal, the offensive charge only ramped up a notch for the home side. The play got skewed too far to the offensive side however, Canadian players got in too deep, and the Czechs got possession of the puck and went up ice on a 2-on-1.
Noah Juulsen attempted to thwart the attack with a sprawling stick sweep, but Tomáš Šoustal walked around it and snapped a shot along the ice, the puck getting through Ingram’s legs before he could drop into the butterfly.
Undaunted by the goal scored against the run of play, Canada kept their play at a high level. This time, it was a defender’s turn to hit the scoresheet, as Thomas Chabot took the puck at the blue line, danced around the centreman in the slot and fired a shot short side to restore the one-goal advantage.
Great play by Chabot to give Canada a 3-2 lead. pic.twitter.com/9kTuJxqaPR— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) January 3, 2017
Outscoring the opposition 3-1 in the period, and being the better team by a wide margin, the Canadians headed to the dressing room to the sound of applause from an appreciative fanbase.
The ice wasn’t nearly as tilted to start the final 20 minutes, but Canada was still able to get a few chances, and one of those resulted in the 4-2 goal for Canada to give them a bit of a cushion. Some good work by Nicolas Roy behind the net allowed him to get the puck to the slot, and Julien Gauthier simply had to connect on the pass.
Gauthier makes it 4-2. Nice pass by Roy. pic.twitter.com/YcCxZ8806D— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) January 3, 2017
Things didn’t stay comfortable for very long, however, as Šimon Stránský pulled his side within a goal just moments later.
It was Canada’s turn to turn on the red light just seconds afterward, as Gauthier went right to the net once again and potted his second of the period.
Gauthier x2, 5-3 Canada pic.twitter.com/30Fp85mZv2— GIF Grand Maester (@myregularface) January 3, 2017
Canada controlled possession for the remainder of the game, getting several more good chances but no goals, securing a 5-3 win.
With the loss, Czech Republic’s tournament comes to an end. Canada moves on to play perhaps the strongest team in the tournament to date, as they face Team Sweden on Wednesday in the semi-finals.