On the opening day of the 2023 World Juniors, it was Canada versus Czechia to wrap up the Boxing Day schedule. What transpired was a big win for the Czechs that kickstarted their run to this Gold Medal Game. They found those Canadians staring at them from the other side of the ice on Thursday night, a host nation looking for revenge.
Unlike their semifinal game, it was Canada that came out of the gate earning more of the possession, and they had a few forays into the offensive zone, the most dangerous a rush from Connor Bedard as he deked past one defenceman but not a second. Like Wednesday’s semifinal, the momentum was halted for the team that was in control when it took a penalty, this time it was Nathan Gaucher going to the penalty box for interference.
Czechia’s power play showed how dangerous it could be when the nation puts all of its best players on the ice at once. They controlled the puck and set up a haldful of good lucks, thorugh only one shot got to Thomas Milic in the net.
Before the game hit its midpoint, Canada put the puck in the net on a shot from Connor Bedard. On this particular occasion, his penchant for walking the blue line saw the puck go outside the zone on a stick-handle, and the goal was disallowed.
Moments later the Czechs came close to being the ones to get on the scoreboard first, but their shot hit of the net’s right elbow and stayed out.
Canada drew a penalty when Brennan Othmann landing a hit to create a turnover in the offensive zone and was then hauled down, after working the puck around on the zone for much of the power play, Canada finally turned the pressure into a goal when Dylan Guenther’s one-timer beat netminder Tomáš Suchánek.
Czechia wasn’t deterred by the goal, knowing that they had had some decent looks and stuck with the plan they had before the game. They very nearly nearly tied to game on a partial breakaway in the final minutes, but Milic came well out of his crease to cut down the angle and turn the chance aside.
The Czechs got an early power play in second period when Ethan Del Mastro went to the box for tripping. While short-handed, Canada had a great chance for a short-handed goal, but Caedan Bankier couldn’t gather in the pass and decided to crash into Suchánek in the crease, bringing out the training staff to attend to the goalie. There probably should have been a penalty called for goaltender interference on the play. Instead the game continued with no further discipline, and Canada had another two looks from breakaways while down a player.
Having built some momentum from the penalty kill, Canada soon doubled its lead to 2-0 on a great individual effort from Shane Wright to force his way past two defenders along the boards, cut to the middle, and whack a backhand shot into the net.
The game became an even back-and-forth affair following the 2-0 goal. That would have been understandable from both teams if the game were tied, but the Czechs needed to find two goals to get the game into that situation, and weren’t making headway to make that happen before the end of the second period.
As the third began with Canada 20 minutes from the title, they stayed disciplined to use the same approach to give the Czechs little to work with. The clock continued to run down with Canada up by two goals and looking like the team more likely to score the next one.
But they didn’t find the goal that would have probably put the game away. Instead it was the Czechs who got back into it with over seven minutes to play. They gained the zone with an incredible back-heel zone entry from defenceman Stanislav Svozil who played the puck over his head, and Jiri Kulich used the offensive possession to put his team on the board.
A minute later, the game was tied by Jakub Kos who deflected a shot from the point that hit the leg of a Canadian defenceman and slowly bounced past Milic and into the net.
There were some nervous moments late for Canada as an icing call gave Czechia one last chance to win it in regulation. There was a mad scramble around the goal crease, but the puck never crossed the line, and the game went to three-on-three overtime which would go as long as needed to find a winning goal.
To start the overtime following a full intermission, the defensive players were mindful not to allow any breaks and all of the players who tried rushes early in extra time were shadowed closely by an opponent to prevent an open look.
The first true odd-man rush came from Dylan Guenther and Joshua Roy. Guenther handed off the puck, Roy swung wide to the left side of the ice, then passed it across the zone back to Guenther to fire home the golden goal.