Finland won in 2019, but Canada got the better of Suomi last year. This is the first time in nine hostings that Finland will win a medal on home ice. The question now is, will it be gold or silver?
"We came here to win," said defender Ryan Graves. "We take pride in our hockey. As Canadians, hockey’s in our blood so I know everyone back home is rooting for us to get gold. It’s an honour to play for your country and that’s the whole reason we come over here."
Dylan Cozens had two goals and an assist for the winners, and Kent Johnson had one plus one. Cozens now has 12 points in the tournament, three behind leader Czechia's Roman Cervenka and one behind teammates Pierre-Luc Dubois and Drake Batherson. Cozens leads all players in plus-minus with a +11.
But the biggest differences in this game were goaltending and special teams. Chris Dreidger was sensational when he had to be while his counterpart Karel Vejmelka, so solid all tournament, had an off night tonight. Shots favoured Canada 35-26.
Canada scored twice on three power plays in the second period and Czechia only once on four in the first.
"The guys out there just kept it simple, right?" Cole Sillinger asked, rhetorically. "I mean, you look at our two goals out there. [Matt] Barzal, a good shot, obviously. And then just a down-low play, take it to the net. Just simple plays. Special teams is huge in this tournament, so it's good to get plugged in at the right time."
"We started little bit slow again but found a way to get back into the game and didn’t give up after that," said Max Comtois. "Our first line is unbelievable right now, our power play is clicking, we got some huge goals from the fourth line as well. It’s total team effort and we need this to get to win the gold medal."
"We started quite well in the first period, but then they got a lucky bounce and scored. After that I don’t know what happened. They played much better. We have to forget today’s game and focus on tomorrow’s game against the USA. Canada played really well after the first period, but we can do better. I don’t know really what happened. We have to keep it more simple than today. We didn’t play much with the puck after the first period and that’s the key. We should play more with the puck."
The Czechs had a great chance to double their lead when Tomas Hertl stole the puck off Nick Holden, but Dreidger made a fine blocker save to keep it a one-goal game.
The Canadians had to kill off two more infractions but managed to escape the period with a 1-1 tie thanks to some last-minute work from Pierre-Luc Dubois. He created a turnover behind the Czechia goal, poked the puck out front, and let Dylan Cozens do the rest. Cozens’s first shot was saved beautifully by Vejmelka, but the Canadian got his own rebound and whacked it in with 32.3 seconds remaining.
"It was a big goal for sure," captain Thomas Chabot said afterwards. "A goal like that is always big for any team especially from that line. They’ve been playing so well for us all through the tournament. They’ve been a big part of our success."
That momentum carried over to the second, and Canada dominated it from start to finish, scoring three times to take a commanding 4-1 lead. Two of those came on the power play, as the Czechs ran afoul with the officials while Canada behaved. The Canadians took their first lead at 7:33 with the extra skater after David Pastrnak took an unnecessary interference penalty to the side of his own goal with play in centre ice. Adam Lowry got the goal with an accurate shot, and then 81 seconds later they made it 3-1.
Dawson Mercer took a simple shot from a bad angle, but Vejmelka kicked out the rebound and Kent Johnson was right there to put it home. Finnish coach Kari Jalonen called a timeout for his Czech team, but the quiet time didn’t work. Two minutes later, Canada scored again, also during a five-on-four. This time Matt Barzal walked in to the top of the circle and snapped a pinpoint shot crossbar and in.
Czechia had their best chances late in the period, but this was when Dreidger played his best. He stoned Pastrnak with a quick left leg from a close-in rebound, and then he calmly got the better of Jakub Vrana on a breakaway.
Sillinger increased the Canadian lead 3:56 into the third. He gained control of the puck in his own end off a turnover, barrelled down the left side and beat Vejmelka with a clean shot. It was the kind of puck he needed to save at that point of the game.
Czechia got a penalty shot soon after on a weird play. A Canadian shot bounced wildly off the glass and Vrana created a breakaway out of it. He was hooked from behind, and Pastrnak was chosen by Jalonen for the freebie. In a fit of anti-climax, he shot wide.
Cozens made it 6-1 at 12:50 when he back-handed the puck past a screened Vejmelka. But it got worse for Czechia. They challenged the goal on the basis of offside, but the call stood and they incurred a bench minor.
Canada played textbook defence in the period, not forechecking aggressively, but not allowing odd-man rushes or anything close to a dangerous chance. In the end, it was a dominating performance. Now, they have one game left, for gold.
"The only reason we came here is to get to this gold medal game and do everything we can to win it," Dubois said. "Step 1 is done, we’re in that game that we wanted to play, and now Step 2 is to get ready and get that gold medal."