Czechia shocks hosts
by Andrew Podnieks|27 DEC 2022
Czechia celebrates a goal in the opening game against Canada.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
Czechia scored three goals in the second period and came away with their first win against Canada at the World Juniors since 2013 (8 losses), stunning the favoured hosts by a 5-2 score tonight in Halifax. Canada came into the game with a 20-2-1 record against the Czechs in U20 history, but that stat meant nothing tonight. The only Czechia win came in a shootout nine years ago, and the players were very well aware of the history between the teams.

"Yes, this is the first time [we've won in regulation]. It's unreal," said captain Stanislav Svozil. "This was just the first game of the tournament, and we knew we had to win two games to qualify [for the playoffs], so this is nice. When we got that fifth goal and they had only two, we felt we were in control. This is a huge three points for us, but we have another game tomorrow. We have to win again."

"They outworked us," admitted Canadian forward Brennan Othmann. "You can't take any team lightly. They had a good game, so credit to them. It's a learning curve. They say you win or you learn, and tonight it was learning. It's only Day One; it's not the gold-medal game. Obviously, there's a lot of hype about our team, but at the same time you want to win, especially with this amazing crowd. Now we have to bounce back in two days. It doesn't hurt to go through a game like this. Every team does. It's good for us and a little bit humbling."

Goalie Thomas Suchanek was excellent, stopping 36 of 38 shots, while Canada's starter Benjamin Gaudreau was chased midway through the second. Connor Bedard had a whopping 11 of Canada's shots and scored once.

The opening period had a bit of everything, and then some. Fans got a hint of what was to come just a few minutes in when Canada’s Adam Fantilli skated behind the Czechia net with the puck and did you know what. He got the puck on his blade and whipped it in front, but defender David Spacek saw the play develop and smacked Fantilli’s stick before the Canadian could do the lacrosse successfully. 

Czechia thought they had scored first, at 10:13, but the goal was quickly waived off for goalie interference, and instead of leading 1-0, Gabriel Szturc went to the penalty box. And an expensive trip it was. Just 20 seconds later the home side did, indeed, get one that counted. Olen Zellweger’s point shot was nicely tipped in front by captain Shane Wright.

But Canada wasn’t done with lacrosse on ice, and a couple of minutes later Connor Bedard tried the same move from the other side. This time goalie Tomas Suchanek did what he had to do, moving his mask and shoulder to the corner of the goal to make a great--and brave--save. Soon after, Canada believed it had gone ahead 2-0 on a legit rocket of a point shot by Brandt Clarke. But the Czechs challenged the play and were rewarded by an offside call, negating the goal.

And then the Czechs silenced the Canadian crowd with two late goals 35 seconds apart. The first was a beauty. Svozil fired a quick pass from the corner onto the stick of defender David Spacek, who sped in from the point behind Fantilli's too-casual coverage. Spacek, who played a team-high 22:01, redirected it into the open cage to tie the game. Moments later, David Moravec’s point shot beat a screened Benjamin Gaudreau, sending the Czechs to the dressing room with an improbable 2-1 lead.
Czechia vs Canada - 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship
CZE CAN 27 DEC 2022
Czechia upped their lead just 44 seconds into the second when Svozil walked in alone off the point and snapped a shot under Gaudreau’s blocker. But it looked like Canada turned the game in its favour less than a minute later. Wright created a turnover at centre. Bedard, who led all of Canada's forwards with 20:44 of ice time, collected the puck and drilled a hard shot over Suchanek’s glove to make it a 3-2 game. The fans roared, the players responded with some energy shifts, but just when it seemed a tie game was in reach the game changed again.

At 4:31 Zach Dean took a major and game misconduct penalty for a head hit, and Czechia capitalized with two goals 33 seconds apart. Jiricek made a sensational pass from the end boards, getting to a loose puck first and sending it in front where Jaroslav Chmelar banged it in on his second try. Then, Matous Mensik scored from a terrible angle, spelling the end of Gaudreau’s night. Thomas Milic came in and gave the team some stability in the blue ice for the remainder of the night.

Try as they might, Canada couldn't rally for the win. Czechia played flawless defence, taking few chances in the offensive end but making no mistakes in their own half of the ice. Suchanek was rock solid, and the Canadians just didn't show much finish around the net.

Czechia is back at it tomorrow against Austria while Canada must stew on the loss for another day before playing Germany on Wednesday.
Czechia vs Canada - 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship