It was by no means a fast-paced, good-looking, full 60-minute effort by the Canadian National Junior squad on Saturday, but it was good enough to get the job done. Relying on two first period markers, Team Canada went on to eliminate the Czech Republic by way of a 3-0 score in a game in which the Canadians were outshot 29-25.
Now just two wins away from earning back-to-back gold medals at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Challenge, Canada will need to step up its game following a lacklustre effort on Saturday. Although jumping ahead to a 2-0 lead by the midway point of the opening frame, the Canadians seemed to put the controls to autopilot for the remaining 50 minutes of the game.
Luckily, Canada’s opponent hadn’t medalled in the tournament in 15 years – dating back to 2005 (bronze). But now having been together as a team in Alberta for seven weeks, the Canadian team members have certainly been able to pick up on teammates’ tendencies/habits, even in a low-action matchup.
Goaltender Devon Levi entered Saturday’s game with a 0.82 goals against average and a .951 save percentage to go alongside one shutout. He improved those numbers in turning aside 29 shots, including 12 in the opening frame – as opposed to Canada’s eight.
The Czechs, which have had quite an interesting tournament, began with a 7-1 loss to Sweden, before bouncing back with a 2-0 victory over Russia, only to fall 7-0 to the United States, before finding a place in the Quarterfinal with a 7-0 win over Austria. The team turned to netminder Nick Malik, who did make some timely saves, but ultimately allowed two first period goals, which proved to be the difference, before Canada iced the game with a Connor McMichael empty-net tally with 2:49 remaining.
“If you want to win, you have to score goals,” said Czech captain Jan Mysak post-game. “It’s disappointing. When they scored, we tried to keep going, but they played well.”
Dylan Cozens opened the scoring 8:22 into the game on a lob-breakaway pass from McMichael, which beat Malik glove side before sliding into the net through the backstop’s five-hole. Three minutes later, fill-in captain Bowen Byram outwaited the Czech defenders while dragging the puck across the point, and fired a wrist shot through a perfect Cozens screen, putting Canada up 2-0 with his first goal of the tournament.
Both teams appeared to fall asleep for the better part of both the second and third periods, with the Czech Republic opting to pull Malik early for the extra attacker, which did lead to some offensive zone time, but ultimately ended in the McMichael empty netter.
Improving its record to 13-3 all-time in the quarterfinal, Canada got most of its offence from Cozens (one goal, one assist), McMichael (one goal, one assist) and Winnipeg ICE captain Peyton Krebs, who tallied two assists in the contest, along with some strong defensive play, highlighted by a hard backcheck and a hit that benched one of the Czech forwards along the sideboards.
“They’re a good team. They blocked a lot of shots,” Krebs said. “We had a tough time finding a way to get through, but we were grinding away every period. It was a lot of fun. Our leaders stepped up They were trying to wear us down but we stuck to it, stayed positive, and it worked out well.”
Cozens continues to lead the tournament in both goals (seven) and points (13), while Levi now owns the best save percentage (.967), goals against average (0.64) and number of shutouts (two) among all world juniors goaltenders.
Canada will now await the tournament schedule makers to determine its opponent for Monday’s Semifinal matchup. The game will either be played at 5:00 PM or 8:30 PM central time on TSN.