Owen Power – the number one overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2021 – brought the "Wow!" factor as he became the first defenceman in Canadian World Junior history to record a hat trick. It was also the 19-year-old University of Michigan star’s first World Junior game. Playmaking forward Cole Perfetti added three assists.
"It's pretty special to me," Power admitted. "It's the first hat trick I've ever had."
Both Power and Perfetti won men’s gold at the 2021 IIHF World Championship in Latvia, where a relatively unheralded Canadian roster bounced back after losing its first three games to go all the way.
Mason McTavish had a goal and an assist and Donovan Sebrango and Olen Zellweger also scored for Canada.
Under head coach Dave Cameron, the stacked Canadians are looking to rebound from last year’s silver medal in Edmonton and win gold for the first time since 2020 in the Czech city of Ostrava.
"One of the things we discussed all week prior to the game as a coaching staff was that we didn't know what the hell to expect in the first 10 minutes," said Cameron. "We knew it was going to be a bit of an adventure. It was junior hockey at its finest."
For the Czechs, Michal Gut chipped in a goal and an assist, while Pavel Novak and Stanislav Svozil also tallied.
Czechia hasn’t won this tournament since posting back-to-back gold medals in 2000 and 2001. The last Czech medal of any shade was 2005’s bronze. It’ll be a tough challenge for coach Karel Mlejnek’s crew to reach the podium. This Central European nation has finished seventh at the last three World Juniors.
"The guys played well defensively," said Mlejnek. "They did stuff we told them to do, fulfilled the game plan. But obviously we were undisciplined. That was one of the reasons why we lost."
Canada outshot the Czechs 37-17 as goalie Dylan Garand won his first World Junior start. Garand, who plays for the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, appeared in the third period of Canada’s 16-2 romp over undermanned Germany at the 2021 World Juniors. The native of Victoria, British Columbia just signed his entry-level NHL deal with the New York Rangers, who took him 103rd overall in 2020.
Just four minutes in, McTavish opened the scoring for Canada. The crafty 18-year-old forward, who had two goals and an assist in nine games for the Anaheim Ducks this season, looped around the Czech zone, feinted past Novak in the right faceoff circle, and beat netminder Jakub Malek with a zinger to the stick side. McTavish also captained Canada to gold at the U18 Worlds in Texas in April.
The Czechs celebrated midway through the first period, convinced they had scored at 7:42 on a nice give-and-go rush with Gut converting Jakub Brabanec’s feed across. Play was halted shortly afterwards for a video review, which confirmed those Czech suspicions for a 1-1 tie.
Czechia jumped into a 2-1 lead on its first power play at 11:32. After a faceoff win in the Canadian end, defender David Jiricek sent the puck cross-ice to Novak, who one-timed it past Garand from the left faceoff circle in Alexander Ovechkin-like style.
Just 51 seconds later, Svozil showed off his skills on a solo jaunt, pulling the puck through his skates, dancing around Zellweger, and scoring high to the short side. Svozil, a nifty 18-year-old blueliner, is a teammate of Connor Bedard's with the WHL's Regina Pats. The pro-Canadian fans at Rogers Place were stunned.
"The Czechs did a good job," said Cameron. "They were willing to give up a chance or two to get a chance, a bit of a Russian roulette style."
Falling behind by two goals definitely wasn’t in Canada’s plans, and Cameron called his timeout to regroup. It paid dividends promptly.
The Canadians stormed Malek’s crease and Power surprised the Czech goalie, caught kneeling, with a wrister from the far edge of the faceoff circle at 12:46.
"I think that timeout was huge," Power said. "It kind of settled us down."
Coming late in the first period, Canada’s third goal was all about Perfetti’s on-ice vision. The Canadian assistant captain, who made his NHL debut with Winnipeg on 16 October, lured three Czech defenders to him in the right faceoff circle and then sent a perfect backhand pass to a wide-open Sebrango pinching in. Sebrango beat Malek to knot the score at 19:31.
"[Perfetti is] obviously a really smart player," Power said. "He just finds guys all over the place. He's someone that's really easy to play with."
Bedard, touted as a prospective #1 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, drew the second assist – his first World Junior point – on the play.
About facing Bedard, Svozil said: "There was not much time for talking. Connor and me were both ready for the game."
"We had a pretty good start," said Novak. "We have to be more self-confident. It happens."
Poor discipline would cost the Czechs in the second period with a cluster of penalties, including Michal Hradek’s repeatedly cross-checking of Kent Johnson by Malek’s net. On a 5-on-3, Power coolly one-timed home the 4-3 go-ahead goal at 8:50 off Perfetti’s slick feed.
Just 25 seconds later, with a two-man advantage in effect, Power finished off his hat trick as he jumped in to tap home a rebound at Malek’s left post. Baseball caps littered the ice.
"Three goals!" Cameron said. "I think he came as advertised. He's poised with the puck. He's got a low panic threshold."
Second-period shots favoured Canada 15-2, and that truly reflected the way the ice was tilted.
Nearing the seven-minute mark of the final stanza, Power made a cheeky attempt to get his fourth goal of the night when he took a pass from Bedard and stuck his stick through his legs in close, but he couldn't outwit Malek.
Zellwegger atoned for getting beaten on the third Czech goal by adding a power-play marker for a 6-3 lead with 6:38 remaining. Lukas Cormier fed the Anaheim Ducks prospect the puck from the centre point, and Zellweger bulged the twine with a wrister from the left faceoff circle.
With 5:22 left, Canada's Justin Sourdif was sent off for a late hit on Czech blueliner Jiri Tichacek, who was injured. There was no immediate update on his condition and he will undergo an MRI on Monday. The Czechs, however, were unable to conjure up anything like their first-period spark for a comeback.
"It's always great to have adversity when you win the hockey game," Cameron quipped.
Garand’s Blazers teammate Logan Stankoven, who scored the deciding goal in Canada’s 5-3 gold-medal win over Russia at the 2021 U18 Worlds, joined blueliner Ryan O’Rourke of the Soo Greyhounds as a healthy scratch for the opener.
The Czechs get another shot at some points in Group A on Monday against Germany. Canada’s next opponent is underdog Austria on Tuesday.