Canada wins bronze in OT thriller
by Lucas Aykroyd|30 APR 2023
Macklin Celebrini (#17, right) celebrates after scoring for Canada in a 4-3 overtime win over Slovakia in the bronze medal game of the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
Macklin Celebrini scored the overtime winner at 7:51 as Canada rallied to beat Slovakia 4-3 in the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship bronze medal game.

It was the 16-year-old phenom's second goal of the game and sixth of the tournament, and it was a beauty. Celebrini got in alone, deked to the backhand, and tucked the puck past Slovak goalie Samuel Urban.

Celebrini credied his linemate Matthew Wood:  "It was a great play by 'Woody.' I kind of took a chance. If that went the other way, we'd be having a different conversation! But he made a great play, slipped it through, and I just went on my instincts and tried to make the best play I could."
This was as competitive as any bronze medal game you've ever seen, with two never-say-die teams. The Slovaks trailed 1-0 and 2-1 and then led 3-2 with under five minutes left in regulation, but the Canadians tied it up to force sudden death.

It’s Canada’s fourth U18 Worlds bronze medal. The Canadians also came third in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

Wood shone with a goal and three assists, including a helper on Celebrini's winner. Colby Barlow also scored for Canada.

"Obviously you come here with gold in mind, but it's nice to go home with a bronze medal," Barlow said. "It was a great character win and it means a lot to our whole group."

For Slovakia, Peter Cisar had a goal and an assist, while team scoring leader Dalibor Dvorsky and Daniel Jencko had the other goals.

Slovakia's dream of ending a 20-year medal drought fell short. The Slovaks earned the silver medal in 2003 with a 3-0 final loss to Canada. Their only other medal was bronze at the inaugural 1999 U18 Worlds.

"We played good, we played with heart, and we left it all out there," Dvorsky said. "It's just so sad that it didn't work out."

Urban was pulled in the semi-final after giving up five goals on 29 shots against the Americans, but his strong play gave Slovakia a real shot at bronze. Shots favoured Canada 41-29.

Gabriel D’Aigle returned in net for Canada. In the semi-final, the Victoriaville Tigres netminder allowed five goals on 23 shots after taking over from starter Carson Bjarnason, who was injured in the first period.

In the group stage this year, Canada edged Slovakia 4-3.

Canada carried the scoreless first period by a wide margin, outshooting Slovakia 16-5. Urban was principally responsible for the deadlock, and he added extra flourish to his glove saves.

In the second period, Canada drew first blood at 10:23. From the corner, Wood fed Caden Price at the centre point, and he located Celebrini in the slot. Celebrini zapped the puck past Urban on the stick side.

Touted as a rival to the U.S.'s Cole Eiserman for the #1 overall pick in the 2024 NHL Draft, Celebrini had the opening goal in every Canadian playoff game at this tournament.

"What a special player!" Barlow said. "He had a great tournament. He's already a great player, and I just can't wait to see that in the man he turns into. It's going to be pretty incredible."

Dvorsky got Slovakia on the board at 18:45 on the power play. He skated to the centre point and suddenly snapped a high one that sailed past D'Aigle. The Slovak fans erupted with joy.

"Peter Cisar did an awesome screen there, and I just shot and it went in," Dvorsky said.

Barlow restored Canada's lead at 19:47. Working a give-and-go with Wood, he got the puck at the hash marks and fired it past Urban.

Slovakia made it 2-2 at 1:28 of the third period. Cisar blasted a long shot and D'Aigle got a piece of it with his glove, but allowed the puck to dribble over the line.

At 15:33, Slovakia grabbed a 3-2 lead. On the rush, Peter Cisar dished the puck to Jencko in the left faceoff circle and he beat Canadian goalie Gabriel D'Aigle high to the stick side, sparking a wild celebration among Slovak supporters.

Canada pushed for the equalizer and got it. Coach Jeff Truitt called his timeout with 2:32 left and pulled D'Aigle for the extra attacker. At 18:50, Cristall set up Wood in the slot and he made no mistake.

"The way that this game was played by both teams was unreal competition," Truitt said. "You gotta give the Slovaks a lot of credit. They worked hard. And every one of their players wanted this as much as we did."

Overtime was full of pulse-pounding action. Slovakia's Juraj Pekarcik shot wide on a breakaway and Urban stoned Wood with his glove. Later, the Slovak goalie raced out of his net to pokecheck the puck away from an oncoming Celebrini. But ultimately, the Canadian prodigy wasn't to be denied.
Canada vs Slovakia (Bronze) - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship