Milic saves Canada's bacon
by Andrew Podnieks|05 JAN 2023
Canada's Kevin Korchinski and Thomas Milic celebrate after Canada's semi-final win against Team USA.
photo: Tim Austen / IIHF
Canada fought off a sluggish start and a 2-0 deficit to beat the United States 6-2 and advance to the gold-medal game tomorrow against Czechia. The U.S. will now play Sweden earlier in the day for bronze.

Tonight's game was played before a Scotiabank Centre crowd of 10,636, an arena record.

Canada had a balanced attack, blocked a ton of shots, and was the beneficiary of two goals disallowed for goalie interference after video review. But the star of the show was Canada's goalie, Thomas Milic, who stood large in the blue ice when his team faltered. And tonight, despite the score, that was often. The U.S. dominated large patches of the game and were unfortunate not to have had a more favourable outcome.

They outshot the Canadians 45-37, but couldn't solve Milic to any great degree. Defender and captain Luke Hughes had nine of those chances, but none got past the Canadian goalie.

"We had some really good chances throughout the game," Hughes lamented. "We couldn't bury ours, and they buried theirs. We lost, and that sucks. But you know, we've got a chance to win a medal tomorrow. And that's important. So we've got to wrap our heads around that."

"Everything they got tonight, we gave them," added Rutger McGroarty. "I feel like we just we struggled managing the puck there a little bit. A couple of bounces, whatever it is."

For Canada, it was a relief not to have to rely on Connor Bedard, who had a goal and assist but wasn't the dominant player (for a rare change). It was his linemate, Joshua Roy, who took centre stage, scoring twice and adding two assists.

"I think that was a amazing game to beat the USA," Roy said. "That was the team we wanted to beat, and we were down 2-0. And then we came back, and the crowd was amazing. So just an amazing moment for us. We didn't panic."

"It's incredible," Milic added. "It's something we've been working toward for a long time now and it's something you dream of doing as a kid. So super-excited. I love those high-pressure situations. And I think as we've progressed through the tournament, we've just been getting better and better."
United States vs Canada (SF) - 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship
USA CAN 05 JAN 2023
The Canadians started the game full of nerves, which translated into errant passes, sloppy giveaways, and bouncing pucks they couldn’t control. And the Americans pounced. They scored just 79 seconds into the game after winning a faceoff in the Canadian end. Ryan Ufko took a shot that hit a clutch of players in front, and Logan Cooley was right there to snap the loose puck home.

That silenced the already quiet crowd, and the U.S. continued to take it to Canada, controlling the puck and moving it with a confidence the hosts lacked. Not surprisingly, the Americans scored again, this time off a rebound. Charlie Stramel took the original shot, and Milic made a fine right pad save, but the puck came right to Kenny Connors, and he wasted no time with the second chance.

Canada struck back just over a minute later thanks to, well, who else? Bedard. But this time he had plenty of help. Roy won the draw back to Ethan del Mastro at the point. Del Mastro moved in and wired a hard pass through the crease, Bedard getting enough of the perfect pass to tip it over the outstretched pad of Trey Augustine to give Canada, and the fans, new life. It was Bedard's tournament-leading ninth goal.

That new life translated to more goals in the second, starting with the tying marker just 47 seconds in. Another faceoff win by Logan Stankoven, the leader in success rate in the tournament, got the puck to Roy. Roy's shot was stopped by Augustine, but Stankoven poked home the rebound.

Soon after, Adam Fantilli, who had but one goal so far, hit the post, and at the other end Milic made a great stop off Cooley that left the American more than a little frustrated. Milic then stoned Chaz Lucius on a breakaway, and Canada made the most of Milic’s heroics by going ahead for the first time. Fantilli finished off a nice pass from the birthday boy, Zach Dean, who was celebrating his 20th. 

Milic made the save of the period a minute later, whipping the glove out to stop a Jimmy Snuggerud snapper from point blank. The Americans thought they had tied the game at 7:22 when Jackson Blake spun and slid the puck in from the top of the crease, but Canada asked for a video review based on goalie interference. After consulting their monitors, the referees agreed – no goal.

Sure enough, Canada extended its lead when Roy banged home a Stankoven pass at 12:20. The play went end to end the rest of the way, teams trading possession but Canada doing a better job of blocking shots, getting sticks in lanes, and preventing much in the way of scoring chances.

Canada got a second golden reprieve 38 seconds into the third. The Americans thought they had scored to make it a 4-3 game when Rutger McGroarty shoved a loose puck in, but again Canada challenged for goalie interference – and again the officials agreed.

Two minutes later, on a power play, McGroarty clanged one off the post, and them Milic made the save of the game. Playing a clear-in too casually behind his goal, he had the puck bounce off the heel of his stick and roll in front of the open goal. But as Cutter Gauthier fired, Milic slid back and made a save with stacked pads.

And as happened all night, Canada weathered that storm and responded with a goal. Brandt Clarke claimed a loose puck in the slot and fired a high shot in at 9:45 to make it a 5-2 game.

The last hope for the U.S. was a late power play, but Roy stole the puck at the American blue line and fired it into the empty net at 16:45 to seal the victory.
United States vs Canada (SF) - 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship