In the third of four quarterfinal games, a scrappy, but inconsistent Czech Republic squad clashed with a deep Canadian team that hadn’t quite seemed to hit it’s full stride in the tournament. Canada was without Alex Newhook for the game, forcing them into a 12 forward, eight defender line up against the Czechs. The Czechs were also without some of their lineup regulars, with Jaromir Pytlik and Michal Gut missing the game.Devon Levi got the start for Canada, while it was Nick Malik starting for the Czech Republic.
Canada came into the match fresh off a 4-1 win over the Finns, while the Czechs had rebounded after a thrashing by the Americans, collecting a 7-0 win over Austria to secure their place in the elimination rounds.
The Canadians came on strong right out of the gate, with Dylan Cozens pressuing Nick Malik in the opening seconds and again off the opening draw. It was nearly five minutes before the Czechs found themselves in the offensive zone testing Devon Levi who gave up nothing in terms of a rebound in front of his net. Even with the Czechs growing into the game and looking dangerous, it was Team Canada getting on the board first.
A blocked shot turned into a breakaway chance when Connor McMichael corralled the puck,then fired a stretch pass for Dylan Cozens, and Cozens dangled in before taking his shot on Malik. The Czech goalie got most of the puck, but not enough to stop the puck from trickling in over the line behind him.
The Czechs didn’t help themselves with Adam Raska lining up Jakob Pelletier well after the puck was gone resulting in an interference penalty. The Czechs managed to kill off the penalty, but still surrendered a goal just as Raska stepped out of the box. Bowen Byram circled the zone, looking for a shooting lane, when he found it he fired a wrist shot that Malik again got some of, but again not enough to stop it from squeaking in behind him for a two goal Canadian lead.
The Czechs settled in after the second goal, pushing back heavily against the Canadians, and keeping sustained pressure in the offensive zone. Both Pavel Novak and Jan Mysak had great looks, but couldn’t beat Levi, and the teams headed into the first break with Canada up by a pair of goals.
With the second period underway, Canada seemed content to wait for chances, rather than pushing heavily into the Czech defence. They circled the puck back to the point, to get it away from a collapsing defensive wall in front of Nick Malik to varying levels of success, but they still hadn’t found another goal. The Czechs couldn’t find their legs in their counterpunching style, and were resigned solo rushes or stretch passes.
That was the tempo of the period, neither side truly found a breakthrough in any of their attacks. Canada did nearly add another goal with Bowen Byram ringing a shot off the crossbar behind Malik. While the best Czech chance of the period came when Michal Teply slid a pass across the crease during a two-on-one to Jan Mysak. However, Teply’s pass was slightly behind Mysak and the Habs prospect couldn’t grab the errant pass to get a chance off. When all was said and done, Canada went into the second break still holding a two goal lead, and seemed content to just ride it out going into the third period.
While the second period seemed to lack any real action, the third was the opposite. Connor McMichael broke in on Nick Malik, but the Czech goalie clamped down to deny a third goal. The Czechs then pushed their offence forward, trying to break down the stout Canadian defence, and Martin Lang threw a pass into the slot, but his teammate couldn’t quite get enough on it to trouble Devon Levi.
The Canadians continued to keep a stranglehold on the game, wearing down a Czech team that looked like it was running on fumes in the third period. With just over five minutes left the Czechs opted to pull Nick Malik for the extra attacker, and almost immediately Jan Mysak created a great chance. His shot went wide of Devon Levi, off the end boards and right to Adam Raska who failed to beat Levi’s pad low against the post on the play. The Canadians managed to get the puck out, but it was again Mysak making a stellar play on the back check to deny them a chance for the empty net marker.
Kaiden Guhle managed to chip the puck out off the glass, Connor McMichael jumped on it, blowing by the last defender and easily depositing it for the empty net goal, and all but seal the game for the Canadians. A late power play for the Czechs yielded nothing, setting a date for the Canadians against the Russians in the semi-final. A valiant defensive effort by the Czechs should also be commended, it’s something team captain and Canadiens’ prospect Jan Mysak talked about this week in an interview with Eyes on the Prize.
The Czechs three best players, as voted by their team at the end of the game were:
#4 Radek Kucerik
#8 David Jiricek
#19 Jan Mysak