Facing a high-powered Team Canada offence, Slovakia knew it had to employ some extreme tactics to get the win in the fourth quarter-final. Before the game, the talk was all about getting physical on Connor Bedard, hoping to throw a player having one of the greatest tournaments in history off his game.
The plan was successful in the opening minutes. Slovakia locked down the front of their net to not allow any pucks on their goaltender, while amassing shots on Canadian goaltender Thomas Milic on their offensive-zone forays.
When you’re playing a team with the talent of Bedard, however, anything less than perfection can be enough to cost you, and that was the case on the game’s opening goal. Slovakia attempting to pass the puck out of their zone, but it was intercepted by Logan Stankoven, advanced to Bedard, and in the net in a matter of moments.
CONNOR BEDARD SETS A NEW CANADIAN RECORD FOR MOST GOALS AT THE WORLD JUNIORS! pic.twitter.com/CJwpYmJdvW— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 2, 2023
The answer was obviously to be even more physical with Bedard to slow him down, and after every whistle they were going after Canada’s best player. Eventually the Slovaks got a penalty for their post-stoppage play, but they also took Bedard to the penalty box with them.
During this stretch, Canada had taken over the goal, and turned the initial 5-0 shot deficit into a 12-7 edge.
Near the end of the period, Owen Beck got his first shift of the game after being added to the squad days earlier as an injury replacement. He had a shot on goal, then drew a slashing penalty in his own zone for a solid debut with the National Junior Team.
The middle frame began with a shift from Bedard’s line that saw two waves of attack for the most dangerous trio. They may have been on the ice too long looking for a goal, however, because the Slovaks had two excellent looks with them still on the ice. Milic made two big saves to keep Canada in the lead.
Canada received a power play after a Slovak defenceman flipped the puck over the glass while under pressure. On the power play, Dylan Guenther just got his stick on pass that was headed behind him, getting just enough on the puck to send it through Adam Gajan’s five-hole for a 2-0 lead.
The lead was soon dropped back down to one as Canada took a tripping penalty. The power play lasted just three seconds before Simon Nemec sent the puck through a crowd in front of the net for Slovakia’s first goal.
It was then Zach Ostapchuk’s turn to find the net. On an odd-man rush he looked pass all the way into the zone, then at the last second fired the puck on goal, far-side when Gajan couldn’t reach with his blocker.
Attempting to build his team’s lead, Bedard was holding the puck high near the blue as he often has in the tournament. This time he was stripped of the puck by a defender, and then slow to realize he only had one teammate behind him to defend a two-man counter-attack. Bedard chased the play and made a desperation slide attempting to break up the two-on-one, but only ended up crashing into the post and having a worm’s-eye view of Slovakia’s second goal.
A second delay of game penalty for Slovakia brought the potential for Canada to take its turn to score a goal, but the penalty-killers were the more dangerous on the ice with much of the play in Canada’s end and Milic under pressure.
The third period began with Canada all over the Slovaks adding to their shot count and pressing for a goal. As the minutes ticked away, the Canadiens looked more anxious about not being able to score despite holding a one-goal lead, desperate to put away a team that refused to go away. A couple of shots on the post only served to encourage the Canadians that the goal they desperately sought was just on the horizon.
If Canada was anxious about their offence, the defensive play become downright panicked at the other end. Players were desperately racing across the zone trying to get sticks on puck and Slovakia worked low in the zone.
The panic was effective when a goal-mouth scramble saw first a pad save from Milic and then a glove save from Tyson Hinds who had slid in behind his goalie for the follow-up chance. It led to disaster soon afterward when two Canadian players chased Filip Mesar behind the net, and the shifty forward shook them both before sending a perfect pass to the front of the net for a tap-in from Libor Nemec.
Ironically, with the game tied Canada seemed to settle down. They began to get more zone time again, and Bedard and his linemates had some good looks on every shift, not getting frustrated by great saves or more posts.
With 34 seconds left to play, one of those Bedard shifts ended with Simon Nemec cross-checking Bedard high in the back and getting assessed a minor penalty. Canada went to the power play for the final half-minute to time looking for a late winner.
Off a contested faceoff, Peter Repcik simply fell on top of the puck, ans half of the remaining time drained off the clock. Slovakia cleared the puck to survive the final dozen seconds, sending the game to three-on-three overtime.
In 90 seconds of power-play time in sudden death, Canada tried to get set up, finally getting a great down-low look for Shane Wright. As a few of their chances had late in the game, his shot went off the post and the power play went for naught.
With play at three-on-three, Bedard authored a few more great chances, but Canada simply couldn’t beat Gajan. At the opposite, Milic made an incredible save of his own on Servác Petrovský to keep the game going.
Bedard was all over the Slovaks in the overtime period, and eventually that proved too much for Gajan and his linemates. Looking at all three Slovak skaters between him and the net, Bedard deked through all three, and then past Gajan on the backhand to send Canada to the semifinals.