Canada’s quest for a record 19th title at the World Junior Hockey Championship began as it usually does — on Boxing day. Taking on Czechia as heavy favourites not only for the game itself, but to win the entire tournament, they needed to get off on the right foot with a big win. The Czechs, for their part, were looking to throw an early dose of adversity to their confident hosts.
Mason McTavish kicked things off with an absolutely gorgeous goal less than five minutes into the game. Skating essentially a full circle around the offensive zone with possession, he came to his off side and fired a precise shot just inside the far post to make it 1-0 for the home team.
But the Czechs stuck around regardless of the early goal, and began getting some solid rush chances. Eventually a two-on-one would give Jakub Brabanec and Michal Gut a golden opportunity, and the latter would rattle it off the net camera to make it 1-1. It wasn’t initially called a goal, but once reviewed it had quite clearly crossed the line.
That goal would provide a wake up call for Canada, as they would ramp up the pressure in the following minutes. However, an unfortunate tripping penalty by Xavier Bourgault just past the nine minute mark gave the Czechs just what they were looking for. An offensive zone draw on the power play led straight to a one-timer from Pavel Novak at the point, beating Dylan Garand and putting the Czechs up 2-1.
Surprisingly, things would get worse for Canada. Stanislav Svozil came flying in on the right side with speed, and absolutely undressed Olen Zellweger before roofing the puck on Garand to make it 3-1 for the underdogs. Canada had to take a time out after that one, as things appeared to be going off the rails.
Svozil with a beauty for Czechia!! pic.twitter.com/N9UTJy8GtC— Hockey Collective (@HKYCollective) December 27, 2021
And it was a smart decision. Seconds after play resumed, a wild scramble in front pushed Jakub Malek out of position in his crease, and Owen Power took advantage with a quick shot from the point to make it 3-2.
Unsatisfied, Canada couldn’t leave the period without another. After a failed two-on one by the Czechs, Canada got their own odd-man rush the other way. Cole Perfetti found Donovan Sebrango streaking into the slot, who ripped one past Malek to tie the game at three apiece with less than 30 seconds to play.
After six goals in the first 20 minutes alone, we had a barn burner on our hands. A period like that made it surprising to have no goals through the first nine minutes of the second. But the Czechs ran into some penalty trouble near the midway point, giving Canada a full two minutes of five-on-three with an additional player already in the box.
They quickly took advantage with their formidable unit. Perfetti did an excellent job moving the checkers around before finding Power near the point for the one-timer. 4-3 Canada and they still had over a minute of five-on-three to play.
It took some time, as the Czechs almost managed to kill both minors, but Canada was too much. Owen Power would get his hat trick, this time coming down from the point and banging in a rebound in close to make it 5-3 for his team.
A far more tame second period was a welcome change of pace for Canada, as they were able to bide their time and capitalize on Czech penalties from there. The third period was much of the same, as Canada were the aggressors, but incapable of getting anything through Malek.
Much like the second period, they would again capitalize on a power play. Olen Zellweger would atone for his earlier undressing in the first period with a beautiful wrist shot from the point to extend the lead to 6-3 for Canada.
That would be enough to seal the deal, as Canada would exit with a 6-3 win. The first period was a little scary, but they tightened up on defense thereafter, and allowed their skills on the power play to take them home from there.
- Defensive lapses by Canada were definitely no help, but Dylan Garand had a very rough night. I think they’ll have to give Sebastian Cossa a look, because as much as Garand can’t be blamed for the defensive lapses, it is very hard to overlook a three-goal first period where he only faced seven shots.
- Owen Power must have fans of the Buffalo Sabres smiling. Even if he ends up having some defensive issues, which is nothing new for young defensemen, he is an ace on the power play. The Canadian strategy was clearly to find ways to get him the puck, and even knowing where that puck was going didn’t help in stopping what he was trying to do.
- Connor Bedard drew a secondary assist on the third Canadian goal, but his net drive is really what opened up the slot for Sebrango on that play. He has shown some incredible hockey sense for a 16-year-old, and it wasn’t surprising when he started taking some shifts on the top line with Shane Wright and Cole Perfetti. It looks like he’s on his way up the depth chart.
- As for Montreal Canadiens prospects, it was hard not to notice Kaiden Guhle in this game. Sure, he didn’t find the score sheet, but he was a fearsome presence for Canada. He landed quite a few clean but thunderous body checks, making sure the Czechs thought twice about anything they tried to do when he was on the ice. Nothing is going to come easy for anyone who
- On the other side was Jan Mysak, who had a quiet but effective game. The Czech captain was in tough with his line being sent out against Canada’s best, but he could hang with them.
Up next for Canada will be Germany this Tuesday night. The Germans may not have the same skill level as Czechia, but Canada will still want to avoid committing some of those same defensive lapses they did in that first period.