Losing in the quarters one year at the World Juniors? Embarrassing. Losing in the quarters two years in a row? Inquests have been called for less in Canada.
Fortunately for the Canadians the road to the semis looked fairly painless, with an easy matchup against the Czech Republic their only obstacle en route to a shot at a medal – or so they thought. If you’re into omens, things didn’t look good for Canada late in the first period.
Czech forward Adam Musil’s shot bounced off some bodies in front of the net, took a deflection off the ref, and landed right on the stick of David Kase, who was left with an open net. So despite trailing on the shot clock 11-4, it was the Czechs who took the lead into the intermission.
But the Canadians turned it on early in the second, earning an early power play that helped them gain some momentum. And just under four minutes into the period Blake Speers – celebrating his 20th birthday – levelled the game by squeezing a shot five-hole on Jakub Skarek, off a great feed from Mitchell Stephens.
Some quick work in the faceoff dot gave Canada its first lead only minutes later, thanks again to Stephens. Anthony Cirelli won a clean offensive zone faceoff straight to Stephens, who wired the puck top corner to get the less-than-capacity crowd energized for the first time in the game.
But the lead would be short lived as Tomas Soustal – on the Czechs’ first shot of the period – made a beautiful move to elude the sweeping poke check of a Canadian defender before firing a weak shot under the pad of Connor Ingram less than a minute later.
Thankfully for Canada, Stephens brought his A game against the Czechs and helped his team re-gain the lead with his second assist – and third point – of the period. You have to be good to be lucky, and in this instance Stephens certainly was.
His arrant backhand pass slid from below the goal line right out the point, where Thomas Chabot took the puck, carried it around one defender, walked in and finished blocker side. That settled the nerves of the Canadian players, who went into the intermission with a slim lead, but a lead no less.
Ingram, who wasn’t tested much in the first two periods with only a combined nine shots, had to be sharp early and often in the third to keep his team ahead. He made a big pad save just over 90 seconds into the period, which proved huge as Julien Gauthier scored the ultimate game-deciding goal minutes later.
He would add another goal with 13:23 remaining in the game, after the Czechs had cut the lead to 4-3, to cement the 5-3 victory and set up a great matchup with Sweden in the semi-final.