U.S. edges Czechs in shootout
by Lucas AYKROYD|29 DEC 2023
The U.S.'s Isaac Howard (left) opens the scoring in a 4-3 shootout win over the Czechs at the 2024 World Juniors in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Isaac Howard got the shootout winner as the U.S. beat Czechia 4-3 in Group B action on Friday.

In the seventh round of the shootout, the 19-year-old Michigan State ace stickhandled in cunningly before zapping the puck through Czech goalie Michal Hrabal's pads. It was a big game for Howard, who also opened the scoring in the first period.

This was a tense, exciting game with multiple lead changes. Czech patience and defensive awareness counterbalanced the American edge in skill on a roster featuring 10 NHL first-round picks.

The result sets up a New Year's Eve showdown for first place in the group between the U.S. and unbeaten Slovakia. The Czechs, who can finish no higher than third, face Switzerland.

Last year, the Czechs earned the silver medal – their first medal since 2005’s bronze – with a 3-2 final loss to Canada. The U.S. claimed the bronze with a wild 8-7 sudden-death victory over Sweden.

Top U.S. goalie Trey Augustine missed this game due to illness. Backup Jacob Fowler, who played in the 11-3 romp over Switzerland, got his second straight start and won his duel with Hrabal. Final shots favoured the U.S. 34-23.

Howard gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead 1:12 in with the first shot on goal, converting Frank Nazar’s cross-ice pass on an odd-man rush. After taking back-to-back minors, the Czechs responded by tightening up defensively.

Against the flow of play, Czechia tied it up at 15:40. Dominik Rymon won a foot race for the puck behind Fowler’s net and centred it to Jakub Stancl, who made no mistake. First-period shots were 15-5 U.S., but coach Patrik Augusta's boys were right n it.

Czechia went up 2-1 at 6:23. Adam Bares snared a loose puck at the bottom of the left faceoff circle and zapped it past a surprised Fowler for his first goal of these World Juniors.

The U.S. struck back at 8:04, courtesy of the marquee line from the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. Inside the Czech blue line, Gabe Perreault got the puck and handed it to Ryan Leonard, who found Will Smith unguarded on the doorstep for the 2-2 equalizer.

Opportunism enabled the Czechs to retake the lead at 11:47. Following a neutral zone turnover, Eduard Sale burst in off left wing and sent a perfect saucer pass to Robin Sapousek, who beat a lunging Fowler.

Activating the U.S. defence spawned the 3-3 goal. Lane Hutson got in deep, retrieved the puck behind the Czech goal line, and sent a centering pass to pinching partner Ryan Chesley, who hammered a one-timer home at 14:11.

The teams both bore down in the third period and getting through the neutral zone became a chore. Hrabal slid across to rob Quinn Finley on a mid-period one-timer set up by the slippery Hutson.

In overtime, the Americans had a golden opportunity to win it after a backchecking Matyas Melovsky clipped Gavin Brindley with a high-stick at the Czech blue line. But the U.S. power play couldn't find the range.

The U.S. has dominated Czechia head-to-head in recent years, winning eight of the last nine encounters. However, the last playoff meeting was in 2022, with the Czechs pulling off a 4-2 quarter-final upset in Edmonton.

Overall, nail-biting games like these underscore the progress Czech hockey is making and the unpredictability of World Junior hockey. The Americans, too, move forward, a little more battle-tested in their quest to win gold for the first time since 2021.
Czechia vs United States - 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship