Bedard magic in OT wins classic
by Andrew Podnieks|03 JAN 2023
Canada's Connor Bedard (#16) celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against Slovakia in overtime.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
Connor Bedard scored at 5:17 of three-on-three overtime to give Canada a thrilling 4-3 win over Slovakia and advance to the semi-finals on Wednesday against the U.S. Slovakia goes home, but not before showing the world what a superb junior team they have, rallying from 3-1 down to force the OT behind the sensational goaltending of Adam Gajan.

Canada outshot Slovakia, 57-27, but time and again Gajan stoned the Canadians. Bedard had 10 of Canada's 57, none more remarkable than his winner. He faked one player to the outside, another to the inside, and then deked Gajan the wrong way before slipping the puck into the gaping goal.

"I saw the one guy make a move, and followed into the net and tried to make another move," Bedard explained. "It's kind of instinct, but luckily it went in."

Bedard earned the awe of coach Dennis Williams, who said, "The extra deception and move, you don't teach that. He works on it. It's a skill set obviously that makes him be that kind of player. His poise, to make that extra move."

Captain Shane Wright echoed that sentiment. "That's what he does. That was quite the performance. He stepped up when we needed him to. Unbelievable player. He had so much poise and confidence making that play. By that point the ice wasn't very good, but to makes those moves and finish on the backhand is incredible."

In all, Bedard had two goals and an assist and now leads the tournament with 21 points. American Logan Cooley is second with "just" 11.

Libor Nemec had a pair for Slovakia in what can only be described as one of the most exciting World Junior games you could hope to see.

In 16 previous meetings between the teams, Canada won them all except for a scoreless tie back at the 1999 tournament in Winnipeg.

Canada opened the scoring thanks to a miscue by Slovakian defender Pavol Funtek, who tried to carry the puck out of his zone. Logan Stankoven stripped him of the puck just inside the line, and he fed Bedard, who made no mistake with the shot at 6:06.

The goal helped Bedard establish three Canadian records: most career World Junior points (32, surpassing Eric Lindros), most career World Junior goals (15, passing Jordan Eberle), and most points, one tournament (19, surpassing Dale McCourt and Brayden Schenn).
Canada vs Slovakia (QF) - 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship
CAN SVK 03 JAN 2023
Soon after, Slovakia demonstrated part of its game plan, initiating a scrum in front of Gajan that eventually took Bedard off for a coincidental roughing penalty. The Slovaks incurred the extra minor, but Bedard was in the box unable to quarterback Canada’s lethal power play.

Slovakia’s best chance of the period came on a Canada power play a little later when Peter Repcik stripped Olen Zellweger of the puck at centre ice. Repcik roared in on goal, but Milic was there to make a fine save with the left pad.

Although teams split four goals in the second, Slovakia had an edge in play and took momentum and energy from the Canadians. Every time it looked like the hosts would gain an advantage that would endure, Slovakia responded with confidence. Milic made an early, excellent save off Alex Sotek, and at 5:02 Canada took a 2-0 lead on the power play. It was a nice three-way passing play between Bedard, Brennan Othmann, and Dylan Guenther, who finished it off with a back-door shot.

But no sooner had the crowd started celebrating than Slovakia replied on a power play of its own. Simon Nemec’s point shot was tipped in front by Libor Nemec at 6:58, silencing the crowd and bringing Slovakia to within a goal again.

Midway through, Canada took another two-goal lead on an odd-man rush. Zack Ostapchuk drove down the right side on a three-on-two and, not wanting to risk a turnover that might go back the other way, fired one past Gajan to the far side. But again Slovakia had an answer. Bedard lost the puck inside the Slovak blue line, and Repcik wound up getting the puck in front to Robert Baco, cutting the lead again.

The Canadians looked decidedly uncomfortable the last few minutes, making loose passes, giving the puck away, and giving the sense of being a little unsettled by Slovakia’s refusal to go away.

And that feeling persisted until the Slovaks tied the game midway through the third. They pressed and got more and more aggressive in the Canadian end, and Filip Mesar fought off a check to get the puck in front to Nemec. He made no mistake from the top of the crease, making it a 3-3 game at 11:25.

The OT started with Canada on the power play, thanks to a cross-checking penalty by Simon Nemec on Bedard in the Slovak crease. His teammates did a masterful job of killing it off, setting the stage for a wild fourth period. Milic made two game-saving saves on Servac Petrovsky, and that gave Bedard to do what he does best.

"Some big saves by Thomas Milic," coach Williams enthused. "We don't get to Connor's goal without him. He made some key saves in overtime, big-time saves in the third. We may have outshot them two to one, but they weren't perimeter shots. He stepped up."

"The crowd was pretty special," bedard said. "Even after the goal we could barely hear ourselves think. It was pretty nuts. That moment was special. But it's just the quarter-finals; we still have a ways to go still. That game is behind us, and now we have to focus on the States."
Canada vs Slovakia (QF) - 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship