World Junior Championships 2017 – Quarter-Finals – Canada vs. Czech Republic @ Bell Centre – January 2, 2017

noah-juulsen-daniel-kurovskyIt wasn’t pretty. Not at all. But in the end the home side did what they were supposed to do. They won and advanced to the finals. Fans left happy. The young players on the Canadian side felt relieved. The coaching staff and those with some perspective went away realizing that it would take a lot better play for Canada to defeat the undefeated Swedish side.

I am sure that the confidence level on the Canadian team was not not at an all-time high. They were coming off a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the U.S. Their first loss as a team. Not feeling as invincible as they once were. It showed in their play, especially in the 1st period against the Czech Republic.

This was the real deal. Elimination rounds. Lose and you are done. Despite their low self-esteem as a team they were going up against a squad that they beat twice in pre-tournament games. Once 8-0 and the second time 5-0. Despite this Canada came out flat. Flatter than a pancake. Maybe because they were looking beyond this game to the semi-finals against a Swedish side that destroyed the Slovaks 8-3 in their quarter-final match. Would be a natural thing to do.

As a result despite the fact that they heavily outshot the Czechs in the 1st period Canada came out down 1-0. It was one of the least entertaining periods so far in the tournament. Dull, dull, dull. Most of the play was in the neutral zone or on the outside. Even a late period man advantage did not give a boost to the home side. They spend most of the two minutes looking disorganized and not even able to get the puck into the Czech end.

canadaInstead of giving a boost to Canada killing off the penalty seemed to spur on the Czechs. Then lady luck was on their side when off scramble in front of the Canadian goaltender Connor Ingram the puck bounced off the body of a Czech forward and then off one of the referees right to an unmarked David Kase at the side of the net. He just had to deposit the puck in the back of the deserted side of the net.

Despite going down 1-0 in front of a crowd (not a sell-out, mind out) that was totally pro them did not wake up Canada. The crowd even got impatient with them as the fumbled around and then killed off the last few ticks of the clock behind their own net.

Coach Ducharme must have given a speech that peeled the paint off the walls in between periods because a different Canada came out to start the 2nd period. They earned a powerplay, spent most of it in the Czech end and generated a couple of good scoring chances. Czech goalie Jakub Skarek was up to the task, though, making a couple of good saves.

Though they did not score momentum was now on Canada’s side. They were dominating the game. Throwing a lot of shots on Skarek. Wave after wave. It was the supporting players on the team that for the large part brought victory to Canada. The first goal came as a result of a Mitchell Stephens shots on net that was deftly deflected by Blake Speers, who had jump in step for most of the night – his birthday. It was Speers’ first goal of the tourney.

They did not let up after tying the game. Canada smelt blood in the water. Kept coming at the Czechs. Faceoff whiz Anthony Cirelli won another right to Stephens, who whipped a wrist shot right away on net. The short side shot beat Skarek cleanly. The crowd exploded with appreciation for a team who seemed to remember what they could do.

As they are young players sometimes they don’t know how to handle all the energy they are filled with. As a result they gambled and those types of gambles don’t always pay off. A misplay in the offensive zone led to a 2-on-1 break the other way. Only Montreal Canadiens’ draft choice Noah Juulsen to stop the Czechs. He tried a sliding move to break up the pass, but it was not successful. Tomas Soustal remained calm, walked around Juulsen and ripped a low shot that beat Ingram five-hole.

Boosted by their renewed confidence Canada did not take their foot off the gas. Team leader and a player who has really impressed me with his high level of play, Thomas Chabot made a play that convinced me that he has an NHL career in front of him with his large body, smooth skating and high hockey sense. He took the puck, calmly moved around a Czech player and waited until he had a clear shooting lane. His shot to the short side put Canada back up again.

That is how the period ended with Canada leading 3-2 and the fans back on their side. While they did not dominate in the 3rd period like they did in the 2nd Canada was good enough to win. Another supporting player Nicolas Roy used his large frame to dig out a puck behind the Czech net and picked out Julien Gauthier in the slot leading to a 4-2 Canada lead.

HKO World Junior Czech Republic Canada 20170102The two goal lead only lasted just over a minute as the Czech showed some backbone by clawing back to a one goal difference courtesy of a Simon Stransky goal. They say that if it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it. Since it worked once before Gauthier went back to the front of the Czech net. It resulted in another goal and a 5-2 lead.

That last goal was enough to break the Czech spirit. Canada controlled the rest of the game. Getting a few more scoring chances and though they did not work out it frittered away the rest of the period and game. The tournament was over for the Czechs with Canada now going on to meet the tournament favourites, Sweden, on Wednesday evening at the Bell Centre.

Game Stats:

-Goals:  1st Period:

16:49:  Czech Republic – David Kase assisted by Adam Musil and Filip Hronek

2nd Period:

3:45:  Canada – Blake Speers assisted by Mitchell Stephens and Mathieu Joseph

7:27:  Canada – Mitchell Stephens assisted by Anthony Cirelli

8:53:  Czech Republic – Tomas Soustal unassisted

13:32:  Canada – Thomas Chabot assisted by Mitchell Stephens and Anthony Cirelli

3rd Period:

3:18:  Canada – Julien Gauthier assisted by Nicolas Roy and Kale Clague

5:54:  Czech Republic – Simon Stransky assisted by Martin Necas and Jakub Zboril

6:37:  Canada – Julien Gauthier assisted by Kale Clague and Thomas Chabot

-Shots on Goal:  Canada – 41

Czech Republic – 19

-Players of the Game:  Canada – Julien Gauthier

Czech Republic – Filip Hronek

-Attendance:  10,215

-Final Score:  Canada – 5

Czech Republic – 3


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