Three-goal second period helps Czechia stun Canada at World Juniors
A three-goal second period helped upstart Czechia stun the defending World Junior champions and earn a 5-2 win over Canada on Boxing Day at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
Though Benjamin Gaudreau drew the start for Canada, he would not finish it as he allowed five goals on 17 shots. Fending off a star-laden roster, Czechia's Tomas Suchanek steered aside 36 shots in the win.
"I think their goalie played really well," said Connor Bedard to TSN's Kenzie Lalonde post-game. "We had some good chances and that's how it goes sometimes. But, obviously, (it's) pretty frustrating to lose that one...As much as that sucks, we've got to learn from it. We wouldn't be the first team to win a gold medal after losing the first game."
Canada had ample opportunities to find the back of the net in the opening frame, with University of Michigan product Adam Fantilli attempting a Michigan goal under five minutes in.
Czechia would strike first, though a goalie interference penalty on the play would wipe away the goal and give Canada their first power play opportunity of the game.
Seconds into their man advantage, Canada's captain Shane Wright tipped in a blueline shot from Olen Zellweger to put Canada up 1-0.
After Bedard attempted a Michigan goal of his own, the puck worked its way back to the point, where Brandt Clarke's slapshot found the back of the net.
Canada's two-goal lead would be short-lived as a successful challenge by Czechia determined that the play was offside, reverting Canada's lead to one.
Czechia got its first goal of the tournament thanks to David Spacek, who received a cross-crease pass from Stanislav Svozil and buried it past Gaudreau. David Moravec added another just 35 seconds later for a 2-1 lead after one period of play.
Czechia carried that momentum into the second period, as Svozil scored 44 seconds into the frame to make it 3-1, though Bedard answered to make it a one-goal game.
Momentum swung in Czechia's favour as Canada's Zach Dean was called for his second penalty of the game. After video review, Dean was assessed a match penalty for an illegal check to the head, presenting Czechia with a five-minute power play. Jaroslav Chmelar restored Czechia's lead while Matous Mensik scored 33 seconds later to give them a three-goal advantage, ending Gaudreau's night as Thomas Milic took over between the pipes.
Milic saw his first test in the remaining seconds of a Czechia power play as after their own Tomas Hamara was called for roughing, Canada's Jack Matier sat two minutes for tripping.
Amid their attempt to rally late, Canada drew a trio of penalties as they finished the game with six penalties against.
"Obviously they [Czechia] played a solid game," said Canada's head coach Dennis Williams. "I think we kind of did it to ourselves. Our discipline wasn't great and a lot of guys played an individual game. So that's something we got to address. And we've got a day to prep here."
"I didn't mind some of it," Williams said on his team's composure while they trailed. "Obviously, though, that second period hurt when we're in the box. They're having to kill quite a few of those penalties. It was hard to get rhythm out of it. But same thing, we had to do a much better job with our discipline. Some of those slashes are easy calls for refs to make, and I think we kind of dug ourselves a hole there and we could never get out of it."
Wright was named Canada's Player of the Game for his two points. Suchanek earned the honour for Czechia.
"We're disappointed. We didn't play up to our standards that we know we can," said Wright. "They came out hard and they played us well. They're the better team tonight. They deserve to win... We know it's not good enough, we know that we've got to bounce back. We got to do a lot of things better, and it's going to be a big learning opportunity for us. Definitely going to teach us a lot of adversity here. I think just overall: disappointing. But we've got to learn from this, got to move on from it."
"The gold medal is not won tonight," Wright added. "We still got three more round robin games to go. And I think tonight's just going to teach us a lot of a good lessons. We've got to respect our opponent a little more. We've got to make sure that we come in every single game ready to fight. We're going to get every team's best and every team wants to beat Canada."
Canada will look to rebound on Wednesday when they take on Germany (6pm et/3pm pt on TSN1/4/5, TSN.ca, and the TSN App). Czechia has a quick turnaround as they face an Austrian team coming off an 11-0 loss to Sweden on Tuesday (6:30pm et/3:30pm pt on TSN1/4, TSN.ca, and the TSN App).