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Guenther scores in OT as Canada beats Czechia to repeat as World Junior champs

Team Canada celebrates Team Canada celebrates - The Canadian Press

Dylan Guenther scored in overtime as Canada survived a third-period charge from Czechia to win the World Junior final 3-2 and repeat as champions Thursday night in Halifax.

Already with a goal in the game, Guenther took a cross-crease feed from Joshua Roy in the three-on-three extra frame and buried it past Czech goaltender Tomas Suchenko to send Canadian fans into a frenzy.

“I can’t believe it. I even forgot to take my gloves off because it doesn’t feel real. This is awesome. We played so hard tonight, we played well, and this is a dream come true. This is unbelievable,” the Arizona Coyotes prospect told TSN’s Kenzie Lalonde after the win.

Guenther opened the scoring on a power-play rocket from the left circle in the first period and finished with three points on the night.

“This has got to be the best feeling ever. I mean, to score that goal, every kid dreams of that,” Guenther said.

Shane Wright – who was celebrating his 19th birthday – had the other goal for Canada on a wicked backhand beating four separate Czech defenders in the second period.

“So proud of this group, so proud of these boys. We faced a lot of adversity this tournament and gave it all tonight. Hell of a win,” Wright said.

Canada took a 2-0 lead into the latter half of the third period and looked to have one hand on the World Junior trophy. But just as they had all tournament, Czechia excelled with the odds against them and got two goals in under a minute from Jiri Kulich and Jakub Kos to even things at two goals apiece and send the final into golden goal territory.

Connor Bedard said the team stayed upbeat despite the trying circumstances.

“Going into overtime, a lot of us had been there. A lot of us experienced the exact same game so we had so much confidence going in with this group,” the projected No. 1 overall pick said.

"It was an amazing feeling. I'm so proud of the guys how they stuck together," head coach Dennis Williams said.

The two teams met on Boxing Day with Czechia picking up a surprising 5-2 victory. It was the first time Canada lost their opening game of the tournament as hosts.

"We remember the first game," forward Joshua Roy said Wednesday of the rematch, adding he felt the Czechs were "pretty cocky" with how they celebrated.

This was the first time the two teams met for World Junior gold in the tournament's current format, while Canada was 6-0 against Czechia in the medal round all-time coming into the final. Canada is the first team to repeat as champs since they did it in 2009 while Czechia earns their first medal since 2005.

Canada advanced to the final with a 6-2 win over Team USA Wednesday night where Roy had four points and Thomas Milic stopped 43 of 45 shots. Milic won player of the game and called the reaction he got from the fans the “coolest moment of my hockey career.” He stopped 24 of 26 shots in the win, while Czechia's Suchenko turned away 35.

Canada got a major scare a round earlier as Slovakia took them to overtime but Bedard saved his team's repeat hopes with an incredible backhand winner.  The Regina Pats star finished with the most all-time goals (17) and points (36) by a Canadian at the event and also owns the points record (23) at a single tournament by a Canadian player.

He finished without a point for the first time all tournament Thursday night, but the 17-year-old said throughout the World Juniors that he was unconcerned with his numbers as long as Canada emerged with gold.

He wasn’t about to change his tune when they did.

“I don’t want to talk about myself right now. We’re not talking about me. We just won one of the biggest tournaments in the world. And man, I love this group, I love this country,” Bedard said on the ice after the game.

Czechia booked their spot in the gold medal game with a thrilling 2-1 victory over Sweden in the semifinals on Wednesday. The Swedes led 1-0 late into the third period but David Jiricek tied things with 39 seconds to go and then Kulich scored late in the extra frame to complete the comeback.

Earlier on Thursday, the United States defeated Sweden in overtime 8-7 in a back-and-forth bronze medal game. Luke Hughes completed his hat trick with the overtime winner to give the Americans their fourth medal in the past six tournaments.

The 2023 World Juniors were originally supposed to take place in Russia but were moved after the IIHF stripped and suspended Russia from hosting and participating in the tournament following their invasion of Ukraine. Up stepped Halifax and Moncton, who brought the tournament back to the Maritimes for the first time in 20 years.

And by many accounts, the atmosphere was one of the most memorable.

“This is unbelievable here, we’ve got to thank [the fans],” Bedard said while gesturing to the Canadian contingent.

“This crowd. This atmosphere. Unbelievable. Every single game these fans came out and supported us, cheered us on, we love the support so much, just want to thank everyone for coming out,” Wright said.