Canadians hold off spirited Slovaks
by Andy Potts|23 APR 2023
Slovakia's defence scrambles into action as Canada's Ty Halaburda looks for an opening in the teams' U18 World Championship game in Ajoie, Switzerland.
photo: Chris Tanouye / IIHF
A rousing Slovak fightback almost wiped out a 3-0 Canadian lead in Sunday’s early game. However, at the end of a bruising third-period, Canada secured its second win of the competition with a tighter-than-expected 4-3 verdict.

Forward Colby Barlow was happy to come through the test. "It’s good to learn how to win in those kind of moments, especially looking further down the line," he said. "That was a great opportunity for us to do that and we got it done.

"Overall, it was just a great hockey game."

For Slovakia, Peter Cisar blew the game wide open with a  goal early in the third period to make it 2-3. Despite the defeat, he saw plenty of positives for his team.
"It was a good game from our side, we had lots of chances," he said. "It was a tough loss but we have to look ahead and take that third period performance into the next game."

Barlow got his team off to a flyer, opening the scoring after 50 seconds. The goal was made by Caden Price, who brought the play down the left wing and kept going behind the net before putting the puck on the slot for Barlow to stroke home.

That was a baptism of fire for Slovak goalie Lukas Fursten, making his first appearance at the championship. However, the understudy quickly proved he was in no way second best, charging off his crease to deny Macklin Celebrini after the forward outwitted Maxim Strbak on halfway. Fursten followed up with another big save to close the door on Calum Ritchie after a solo rush.

Early in the second, Slovakia had a great chance to equalize. Juraj Pekarcik’s dangerous rush was halted illegally by Quinton Burns, but Dalibor Dvorsky could not get his penalty shot on target. Pekarcik continued to cause problems, but the next goal went to Canada in the 24th minute. Ritchie peeled away from his covering defender, and Matthew Wood’s feed found him wide open at the far post to double the lead.

Slovakia continued to battle, and centre Roman Kukumberg ruffled plenty of feathers among the Canadian defence with his combative approach. More than once, he and Cam Allen exchanged noisy opinions. However, where Slovakia was spirited, Canada was clinical: Angus MacDonell sent Porter Martone clear of the defence for a brilliantly executed short-handed goal that made it 3-0.

While Slovakia’s team performances in Ajoie have earned plenty of plaudits, star centre Dvorsky was still waiting for his first goal of the tournament. That came late in the middle frame when he drifted across the front of the net and waited until Price committed himself before squeezing a shot round the Canadian defender to make it 1-3 at the intermission.

Dvorsky’s goal raised Slovak hopes and early in the third, Cisar gave his country real belief. The forward, who plays for Madison Capitals of the USHL, fired home off a Kukumberg feed to make it a one-goal game in the 43rd minute.

Slovakia rediscovered the high tempo that served it so well in its first two games. Both teams showed total commitment, putting bodies on the line for every puck. At times, passions spilled over: a dangerous Slovak raid in the 45th minute ended with skirmishes in front and behind the net. The upshot was a Canadian power play and another big save as Fursten got his helmet behind a Nick Lardis shot.

"They came out fast, they came out buzzing," added Barlow. "They’re finishing their checks, they’re definitely a physical team and they were playing hard. It was a battle right to the end."

The Slovaks continued to pile forward at every opportunity but, not for the first time, enthusiasm bordered on recklessness. Frantisek Dej narrowly escaped a major penalty after crunching Andrew Gibson into the boards; a video review commuted his punishment to a boarding minor. Canada’s power play showed no such mercy, though, and Celebrini squeezed his first goal of the competition inside Fursten’s near post from the tightest of angles.

That was not quite the end. In the final minute, playing six-on-five, Slovakia again got to within one goal when Pekarcik batted Strbak's slap shot into the net to make it 3-4 with 50 seconds to play. Head coach Tibor Tartal called a time-out to write the script for a dramatic finale. Canada had to hang on in the closing seconds, but closed out the win.

Slovakia moves on to face Germany knowing that a win will secure a quarter-final spot. And that's not the limit to the ambitions for this newly-promoted team.

"We’re looking higher [than staying up]," Cisar stated. "We have a really good chance of beating Germany tomorrow and getting in to the playoffs. After that, I think this team will be even tighter and I think we have a great chance of going to the semis."
Slovakia vs Sweden - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship