Kent Johnson's late first-period "Michigan" goal, which proved to be the winner, was the offensive highlight of Saturday's second game at Edmonton's Rogers Place. Johnson also chipped in an assist.
Brennan Othmann reminisced about seeing Johnson, 19, pull off the jaw-dropping move in training camp: "I actually said to him the first day, 'John, I better see you pull this off this tournament.' And he looked at me and said: 'Yeah, that's what the goal is.' So when he had it behind the goal, I looked over and I said,
'OK, that's it.' And then he did it! This guy's disgusting."
Captain Mason McTavish padded his tournament scoring lead (6+4=10) with two more goals. Ridly Greig also tallied his second World Junior goal. Ronan Seeley and Jack Thompson had a pair of assists apiece, and 17-year-old superstar Connor Bedard added an assist to extend his point streak to three games.
Martin Rysavy replied for Czechia.
"I'm always enjoying playing in Canada," Rysavy said. "In my opinion, it's probably the best U20 team. So it's always a great game with the fans cheering. It's a little bit sour in the end because we lost."
The Czechs started this game behind the eight-ball, as star defenceman Stanislav Svozil – a Regina Pats teammate of Bedard's and a 2021 third-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets – did not play.
Suchanek, a 19-year-old Prerov product who spent last season with the WHL's Tri-City Americans, shone in his World Junior debut in net, showing a flair reminiscent of Petr Mrazek at the 2012 tournament in Alberta. Jan Bednar, who was between the pipes for the first two Czech games, did not dress.
At the other end, goalie Dylan Garand was solid with his second straight start and win for Canada.
Canada’s last round-robin game is on Monday versus Finland – a potential showdown for first place in Group A. The Finns – 2021 bronze medalists – last won the World Juniors in 2019 in Vancouver.
The Canadians, who lead Group A with nine points, have outscored their opponents 21-4 through three games. Under coach Dave Cameron, they aspire to win an all-time record 19th World Junior gold medal after settling for silver at the 2021 tournament, also played here in Edmonton, but in a pandemic bubble.
Prior to this confrontation, the Czechs outlasted Slovakia 5-4 and fell 4-3 to Finland in a shootout. Canada offered the stiffest challenge yet for coach Radim Rulik’s troops, vying to end a Czech medal drought that goes back to 2005’s bronze medal in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
On a shorthanded break, Jakub Kos fed Rysavy, and the Prerov-trained Moose Jaw Warrior zapped the puck in off Garand’s right post and the back bar. The puck exited the net so quickly that play continued, but after a video review, the Czechs were correctly granted a 1-0 lead at 5:10. It was the first time Canada has trailed at these World Juniors.
"I think it's tough sometimes when you start with a long power play early in the game like that," Greig said.
After failing to score on their five-minute man advantage, the Canadians poured on the pressure, hemming the Czechs in with skill and physicality. Suchanek responded to the challenge, picking off an Olen Zellweger blast from the right faceoff circle and foiling Tyson Foerster from the slot on the rush. The goalie also robbed Johnson on Foerster's back-door feed.
Rysavy praised Suchanek: "I know him for like 14 years. He's just a great goalie. At his best, he could probably [allow just] three goals in a game from 60 shots. So all the respect for him after this game, because he helped us a lot."
But seconds later, Canada broke through off a faceoff in the Czech end. McTavish, coming off a six-point effort in the 11-1 demolition of Slovakia, deflected in Jack Thompson’s long shot through traffic for a 1-1 tie at 16:44. The Canadian fans erupted with relief.
Suchanek kept on battling, making another highlight-reel stop on Logan Stankoven – the 2022 CHL Player of the Year with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers – at the side of the net.
Still, Canada took a 2-1 lead at 19:00 on Johnson's “Michigan” goal – the first one at this tournament. It was an exclamation point for a Canadian team that outshot Czechia 23-9 in the first period and wouldn’t look back.
"I just got a loose puck behind the net, and there was no D-man on the right post, so I just went for it," Johnson said.
Johnson, a 2022 Olympian and World Championship participant who actually spent two years at the University of Michigan, is no stranger to the "Michigan." The nifty Columbus Blue Jackets prospect scored that way twice in 2019-20 as an assistant captain with the BCHL's Trail Smoke Eaters.
Come the second period, Suchanek would have needed more arms and legs in order to stymie the Canadian onslaught. Just after he stopped Ridley Greig on a clear break, Gabriel Szturc, who had the winner against Slovakia, was sent off for roughing. Five seconds into the power play, Greig tipped home Seeley's point shot off a Czech zone faceoff for a 3-1 edge at 4:48.
McTavish, the #3 overall pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2021 and a 2022 Olympian, put the game out of reach at 11:05 on a breakaway goal set up by Bedard.
In the third period, Johnson fed Foerster beautifully for a one-timer to make it 5-1 Canada at 7:39.
"I think the forecheck game was really good for us and we were just finding each other in the O-zone," Johnson said. "It seemed like we really connected on all those passes and were in the right spots for puck support."
During the post-game handshake, McTavish shared a nice moment with Czech captain Jan Mysak, his former Peterborough Petes teammate.
"We're great buddies," McTavish explained. "We won an OHL championship together so there's always a bond there. He's a great guy. He loves hockey. He's passionate about it. We just said, 'Good luck in the rest of the tournament.'"
This was the sixth consecutive Canadian World Junior win over Czechia. The last Czech victory was 5-4 in Malmo, Sweden on 28 December, 2013, as David Pastrnak and Dominik Simon scored in the shootout.
The Czechs wrap up their group stage on Sunday against Latvia, which sits last in Group A with one point.