Celebrini shines, Canada makes semis
by Lucas Aykroyd|27 APR 2023
Macklin Celebrini (#17) high-fives his Canadian teammates after scoring in a 7-3 quarter-final romp over host Switzerland at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
Macklin Celebrini gave Canada a reason to celebrate. The 16-year-old Chicago Steel phenom scored two goals and two assists as Canada trounced Switzerland 7-3 in the late quarter-final in Basel.

The first line of Celebrini, Calum Ritchie and Matthew Wood has excelled for Canada at the 2023 U18 Worlds. They combined for eight points in this do-or-die matchup. Assistant captain Andrew Cristall added his first two goals of the tournament.

Despite advancing, Canadian coach Jeff Truitt sounded a note of caution: "I thought that we outskilled [the other] team at times, but I thought that we shot ourselves in the foot here a little bit as well. We know we can improve on that. We know we've got to clean some things up and tighten up our D-zone."
Matteo Wagner replied with a pair for the host nation. It was a tough ending for the Swiss, who played a strong first period but were ultimately overmatched again versus North American opponents. Switzerland fell 10-0 to the Group B-leading U.S. in its last group game.

"The first and third periods were tight," Wagner said. "But in the second period, we weren't on the same level as Canada. We made small errors, they seized their opportunities, and they scored. We are proud that we came so far, but it's tough that we lost."

Heading into the semi-finals, the Canadians are hungry for their fifth U18 Worlds title of all time. Canada’s last gold medal was in 2021 in Frisco, Texas with a powerhouse squad whose stars ranged from Connor Bedard and Shane Wright to Dylan Guenther and Mason McTavish. 

Canada’s game has grown by leaps and bounds since getting thumped 8-0 by Sweden in the opener. The Canadians have responded by scoring seven or more goals three times. In the preliminary round, they hammered Germany 8-0 and the Czechs 8-3.

"I think that they've grown an awful lot and the expectations have grown as well," Truitt said.

The Canadians outshot Switzerland 33-31.

Truitt shuffled his lines as assistant captain Colby Barlow (2+1=3) was unavailable to play. Nick Lardis slotted into the top-six forward group in Barlow’s place.

Swiss coach Marcel Jenni’s boys came out with a gritty effort. Near the midway mark, Simon Meier almost opened the scoring on a partial breakaway, but Canadian goalie Carson Bjarnason stopped his first attempt and the rebound.

The Canadians swarmed Swiss starter Ewan Huet’s net on their first power play. Celebrini blasted a one-timer at 16:42 to draw first blood.

Truitt praised Celebrini: "He's an exciting player. He's a dynamic player. He does everything with speed, makes the right reads. He's got a great shot. A tremendous talent. He's a driver on that line, and he's got two really good linemates that complement him."

The Swiss struck back just 34 seconds later, igniting the St. Jakob Arena crowd. Timo Bunzli climaxed some great Swiss puck movement on the rush, getting in tight and banging his own rebound past Bjarnason.

In the second period, it took 37 seconds for Canada to take the wind out of Switzerland's sails. An onrushing Ritchie corraled Celebrini's long pass, skated to the bottom of the right faceoff circle, and fired a bad-angle shot that squeezed past Huet on the short side.

The third Canadian goal at 4:53 was straight-up beautiful. Zooming into the Swiss zone, Ritchie found Celebrini, who knifed a backhand pass to Wood, who fired home his team-leading sixth tally.

At 6:53, Cristall got in tight on an odd-man rush and looked off Huet before zinging the puck over the goalie's right shoulder.

"I think I've been a little bit snakebitten over the tournament," said Cristall. "So to hit the back of the net, it feels pretty good."

Jenni felt his team had a tough time after allowing the second Canadian goal: "We were a little bit shocked, and then we opened up too much in the neutral zone, and [the Canadians] were really effective. That's how they are. They're mature and they know how to score goals."

Near the midway mark, Wagner dangled his way in on a solo jaunt, but couldn't beat Bjarnason on the backhand. About a minute later, Huet made a nice save on a Nick Lardis breakaway.

Celebrini stretched the lead to 5-1 with a snipe high to the blocker side at 15:46, and that ended Huet's night. Swiss backup Christian Kirsch got a rude welcome, as Berkly Catton made it 6-1 at 17:00. Even though Wagner scored a pretty goal off the rush just before the buzzer, there would be no miraculous Swiss comeback.

In the third period, Cristall scored at 2:04, and Wagner got one back with 5:51 remaining to round out the scoring at 7-3.

Wagner took little consolation in his personal performance: "We lost. It doesn't matter. I would rather win the game."

All-time, the Swiss have lost 12 of 13 U18 Worlds games against Canada by an aggregate of 78-21. In the last quarter-final clash between these two nations, Canada prevailed 9-1 in 2016 (Grand Forks, North Dakota).
Canada vs Switzerland (QF) - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship