Jiri Kulich’s third goal of the game – all on the power play – ended a wild, back-and-forth affair that saw Czechia secure second place in Group A with a 6-5 overtime win over Canada. Strong on the power play all tournament, the Czechs were downright deadly with the man advantage in this game, going 5-for-8.
“It was brilliant!” said Czech defenceman Ales Cech. “No one on our team has ever beaten Canada before, so this is the best feeling I’ve ever had in my whole career.”
In addition to his three goals, Kulich also assisted on the late equalizer for a four-point game. His usual partner in crime, Eduard Sale, was naturally the reverse with a goal and three assists. Kulich and Sale are now the co-scoring leaders of the tournament with seven points each. Defenceman Tomas Hamara also had four points – all assists – and now leads all tournament defencemen so far with six points.
“I just love him,” Adam Bares, who scored twice for the Czechs, said about Kulich. “He’s an excellent player. He can score goals from anywhere, on the power play, on penalty shots. He’s our captain; our leader. We’re happy we’ve got him here, we hope he keeps going and we go along with him and win everything that we can.”
Canada was 1-for-3 on the power play, getting goals from five different sources. Lukas Dragicevic and Adam Fantilli each had a goal and an assist. Amazingly for the amount of offence in this game, Connor Bedard was held without a point or shot on goal. The Canadian captain picked up a minor penalty and was 9-for-17 on faceoffs.
Czechia outshot Canada 52-24 in the game, including 24-6 in the second period, when they spent a significant amount of time with the man advantage.
“Obviously, there were a lot of ups and downs, it was kind of anybody’s game,” said goaltender Reid Dyck, who made 46 saves. “It was a special-teams game that we didn’t end up winning. I thought we were a better team 5-on-5 but we just didn’t get the result that we wanted. But we don’t lose the tournament in one game, so we’re just going to go down there (to Kaufbeuren) and to the job.”
The teams entered the game deadlocked at six points, having both beaten Germany and lost to the USA.
The Canadians were fast out of the gate and struck first less than two minutes in. Dragicevic’s shot from the point was stopped by Jan Spunar, but Nicholas Moldenhauer scored on the rebound.
The Czechs answered on the power play, with Bares getting a stick on Hamara’s knee-high point shot.
“I don’t really know how I touched it, but I’m happy I did,” said Bares. On playing netfront on the power play, he said: “Wherever the coaches put me, I try to do the best job I can. I’m not picky.”
The Czechs again went to the power play in the first minute of the second period and they connected again, with a give and go between Kulich and Hamara, and Kulich’s whip-like release from the high slot beating Dyck to the glove side.
Just over a minute later, Canada answered on a power play of its own. Fantilli dug the puck out from a pile of bodies in the slot and fired it past Spunar.
Then Canada ran into some serious penalty trouble, taking four minor penalties in the span of 2:20. Theh Czechs scored once but it could have been worse. First it was Josh Davies for hooking. Then Tanner Howe for slashing and Kocha Delic for roughing after the whistle.
On the 5-on-3, the Czechs pressed hard and Bares buried a rebound after a point shot from Hamara. Canada challenged the play for goaltender interference, as Matyas Sapovaliv’s stick appeared to get tangled in Dyck’s equipment. However, following a video review, the goal was upheld, which resulted in Canadian bench minor for delaying the game.
“I thought he took me out of the play and I didn’t really have a chance to make the save there, but he made the call and we’ve gotta respect that,” said Dyck. “But we got the lead back in the third period, so that goal isn’t what cost us the game.”
The Czechs continued to press with a renewed two-man advantage but couldn’t extend their lead, with Dyck coming up huge on a couple of occasions, and Canada drew back even at 34:43 when David Goyette found Dragicevic’s stick to finish off a 2-on-1 break.
“My D did a great job of letting me see the shots and clearing pucks, which made it as easy as it could be in that situation,” Dyck said about the extended time spent shorthanded.
Czechia regained the lead before the middle frame was out, however, as Davies took his second penalty of the period. As he did twice in his team’s first game against Germany, Sale sent a perfect pass from down low into Kulich’s wheelhouse for the one-timer that blew by everybody to make it 4-3 after 40 minutes.
“If you look at our power play, we’ve had troubles with injuries,” said Czech coach Jakub Petr, referring to the loss of his son Dominik Petr for the duration of the tournament. “But Sapovaliv got in there and it still works and I’m happy for that. So far, so good.”
Early in the third period, Canada tied it up once more. Fantelli drove to the net with the puck and was upended, but Grayden Siepmann scored on the ensuing scramble, as Spunar swam like Dominik Hasek in the crease.
With 10:45 to go, Canada got its first lead since the first period. With the team controlling the puck in the zone, Owen Pickering’s point shot hit Spunar in the shoulder but he couldn’t control the rebound, and Delic was in the right place to chip it in.
“We thought we played at the start and got the early goal, but but were kind of inconsistent for the next period and a half,” said Pickering. “But when we came out to start the third period, I thought we were putting together some good hockey. For us, if we play that way throughout the rest of the tournament, we can beat anybody.”
But the Canadians couldn’t close this one out. With less than three minutes left in the game Goyette’s ill-advised pass up the middle was picked off by Kulich, and in a reverse of their usual routine, he set up Sale cross-ice for the one-timer and it was 5-5. It was Czechia's only even-strength goal of the game.
In the dying seconds of regulation time, Sale very nearly scored again as he cut out from behind the net but couldn’t find room high on the short side.
But that only delayed the drama for a few minutes.
As Kulich drove to the net in overtime, Howe brought him down with a slash, and you could almost predict what was going to happen next. Hamara's shot from the point missed the net, but bounced off the end boards out front to Kulich. Just seven seconds after the faceoff, he picked the top corner and ended it.
Said a proud Coach Petr: “A lot of our boys lost most lost of last season, and people keep saying how bad Czech hockey is, so this is a big thing for us. We beat Canada, and this is a huge message for Czech kids.”