Canada wins first-place duel in OT
by Lucas AYKROYD|21 MAY 2024
Canada claimed top spot in Group A with a 4-3 overtime win over Czechia at the 2024 Worlds. Pictured at the faceoff dot are Canadian captain John Tavares (#91) and his Toronto Maple Leafs teammate David Kampf (#64).
In a nail-biter that stayed scoreless until a wild third period, Dylan Cozens tallied twice, including the overtime winner, as Canada beat Czechia 4-3 to top Group A. The Canadians will face Slovakia in the quarter-finals.

With Canada's Pierre-Luc Dubois serving a holding minor in overtime, Cozens carried the puck into the Czech zone and beat Czech goalie Lukas Dostal with a backhander at 3:13.

"[Colton] Parayko had a great middle drive and I just tried to make a little slip pass to him," Cozens said. "It was a lucky bounce that somehow found its way back on my tape, and I just made a quick play and it found its way in. So I'll take it."

Tuesday's group-stage finale at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship leaves Canada with 19 points. Czechia, with 16 points, is now in second place, but could finish third if Switzerland defeats Finland.

With a never-say-die spirit, Czechia trailed 3-1 with under five minutes left in regulation, but scored twice with an extra attacker on the ice to send this thriller to extra time.

Cozens leads these Worlds with eight goals and has thrust himself firmly into the MVP conversation. The Buffalo Sabres ace had seven goals and 13 points when Canada won silver at his last Worlds in 2022, and also owns two World Junior medals (gold in 2020, silver in 2021).

Dawson Mercer and Brandon Hagel added singles for Canada.

Dominik Kubalik, Ondrej Palat, and Roman Cervenka replied for Czechia.

"I think we played pretty well the first two periods," said Kubalik. "It was 0-0 and we talked about wanting to keep playing well defensively, and I think we did. Eventually they scored the first one, but we came back. The atmosphere and the game was pretty good. It's just too bad we could get enough goals."

As a showdown between the defending champions and the host nation, this was the clear marquee matchup of this year’s preliminary round. It lived up to the advance hype.

Both coaches deployed their top goalies, with Canada's Jordan Binnington dueling Czechia's Dostal. Canada outshot Czechia 26-22.

Canada's win spoiled the addition of superstar winger David Pastrnak into the Czech lineup after his Boston Bruins were eliminated by the Florida Panthers in the second round. Coming off his second consecutive season of 110 points or more, the 27-year-old joined NHL teammate Pavel Zacha on the top line with Cervenka, the Czech captain and leading scorer.

Pastrnak’s lone medal from his previous four Worlds came in 2022 when he helped the Czechs win bronze in Tampere, scoring a tournament-high seven goals.

The adrenalized crowd of 17,314 enjoyed some early end-to-end action in the scoreless first period.

The Czechs flirted with danger when Jakub Krejcik went off for putting the puck over the glass in his end in the first minute, but Jakub Flek nearly opened the scoring when he stole the puck from Connor Bedard at the point and sped down left wing for a nice chance that Binnington stymied. Dostal came up big when Dubois fired a power-play slapper.

Nearing the 14-minute mark, the Canadian goalie made a good right pad stop when Pastrnak fired his trademark one-timer from the left faceoff circle on the first Czech man advantage with Damon Severson off for high-sticking. Dostal got some help from a goalie’s best friend when Severson rang the puck off his right post with under three minutes left in the opening stanza.

Play tightened up tactically in the second period, both sides seeking a chink in the other's armor. Past the midway mark, Pastnak and Cervenka nearly broke through on a fractured 2-on-1 that saw the Czech captain denied by Binnington on the doorstep. Dostal was perfectly placed to stop John Tavares when the Canadian captain looped out front to unleash a quick one.

In the third period, it took just seven seconds for Cozens to break the deadlock on the power play at 1:01. Off the faceoff in the Czech end, Owen Power found the 23-year-old Whitehorse native in the right faceoff circle and Nick Paul took Dostal's eyes away perfectly as the puck flew high into the net.

Czechia grabbed a power-play equalizer when Bedard was sent off for an undisciplined cross-check on Ondrej Beranek at the Czech goal crease. Martin Necas's razor-sharp cross-ice pass found Kubalik for a close-range one-timer at 9:11.

"Obviously a great play by Marty," said Kubalik. "He was looking at me, kind of looking to move me a little down, and then I did. Then he found the seam, which is always nice. "

Canada wasted no time striking back as Mercer made it 2-1 at 11:01. Severson got the puck near the boards in the Czech zone and then passed it to his former New Jersey Devils teammate coming down the middle. He made no mistake with a high backhander.

At 15:42, Hagel gave Canada some breathing room at 3-1 on a breakaway goal set up by Tavares.

Mercer hauled down Pastrnak and the Czechs pulled Dostal in a desperate comeback bid. It paid dividends as Palat deflected in David Spacek's centre-point blast to cut the deficit to 3-2.

Cervenka sent the crowd into total ecstasy with the bad-angle equalizer at 18:11.

"It was definitely one of the best atmospheres I've ever played in," Cozens said. "Their fans were awesome. It's so fun to play here in Europe, and especially against the home team. It was a fun game all around. Both teams battled hard. They played great, and the fans were just awesome."

Czechia last beat Canada at the World Championship way back in 2010, a 3-2 group-stage decision. Canada has won nine straight encounters, including a 3-1 victory last year to end the preliminary round. In Riga, Tyler Myers got the second-period go-ahead goal.