Canada and Czechia met up on Day 1 of the 2023 World Junior Championship. In what turned into a day of upsets, Czechia earned itself an unexpected win against the defending gold medal champions. Despite scoring first, Canada couldn’t keep control of the game as Czechia stuck to its game plan and ground them down. In this 3 Up, 3 Down column we will look at some of the highs and lows of this opening game.
Up #1 – Physicality
Hits, board battles, fighting through coverage, battles at the front of the net, we saw it all. This game brought out the mean in both teams. For Canada, a gritty, finish-your-check style has been their identity. For Czechia, they built a team specifically to play that style, and they did just that to near perfection in this game.
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They lived up to the title “hard to play against” and they did so without losing their cool. Canada however, as they started to fall behind on the scoreboard lost that control. This gave a significant edge to Czechia all night.
Down #1 – Canada Lacks Discipline
Team Canada is supremely skilled but lacked the discipline to settle into their assigned roles. Most of the players are used to being the go-to guy on their respective junior teams, however, here, some will need to be more specialized. Sometimes they lacked the discipline to choose not to make a cute play. But mostly, they were unable to stay out of the penalty box as team captain Shane Wright admitted post game was a serious issue.
We took too many penalties, and that is something we need to clean up for our next game. Hats off to them, but we will take a lot of things away from tonight and look to improve for our next game.Shane Wright
Canada was called for seven penalties, and the one that hurt the most was the Zach Dean five-minute major for a hit to the head. This cost them two goals and the services of Dean for the remainder of the game as it came with a game misconduct. Playing shorthanded for that long took away any momentum or rhythm the Canadian forwards were building.
Up #2 – 2023 Draft Class Shines
The 2023 NHL Draft is proving to be filled with quality prospects. Teams that hold multiple first-round picks are well represented at this World Junior Championship with several scouts in the stands salivating at the opportunity to win the draft lottery. That is because projected first-overall pick Connor Bedard continued to be an offensive threat every time he touched the puck in this game.
But it was more than just Bedard. Czechia forward Eduard Sale was able to generate offense, win board battles, and even play well defensively. Defenseman David Moravec, who should be a mid-round pick, also played a steady two-way game punctuated by scoring with an accurate wrist shot he put through traffic from the point.
Down #2 – Canada Special Teams Woes
Despite opening the game with a power play goal, the Canadian PP was unable to generate the necessary momentum or offense. With the extra man, Canada moved the puck gracefully – on the perimeter. Very few players or pucks challenged the front of the net or goaltender Tomas Suchanek as Czechia sealed the slot with a tight four-man box. For a penalty kill that only allowed two goals against when going down a man seven times it may seem harsh to make it a down, but the Canadians needed it to be unbreakable in this contest, and it simply couldn’t live up to that expectation.
Included in this are faceoffs as Canada ended the game at a success rate of only 44 percent, and that is due directly to Czechia’s domination in the first period.
The second Czechia goal was scored off a lost Canadian defensive zone draw. Canada could have used a faceoff specialist to start the plays off with possession, instead of needing to battle a determined opponent to take it back.
Up #3 – Czechia Goaltending Steals the Show
Czechia did everything they could to be fitted for a Cinderella slipper in this game. The biggest contribution came from Suchanek who played the role of hero for his nation.
Related: 2023 Guide to the World Junior Championship
Suchanek continuously made save after save, especially at moments when his team needed him to take control with a frozen puck or a key save with Canada pressuring. His calm demeanor in net provided his teammates the confidence they needed to continue to pressure Canada and eventually win the game.
Down #3 – Canadian Goaltending Not Up to the Task
Ultimately, it all boiled down to the fact that Canada’s goaltending couldn’t keep them in the game, as San Jose Sharks prospect Benjamin Gaudreau was unable to make the saves when his team needed them most. That isn’t to say he played poorly, as he did face some quality shots, but Canada’s confidence that they could make an error and their goalie would be able to cover for it simply wasn’t there.
Czechia has placed itself in the driver’s seat in the race for a quarterfinals berth with this upset win. They only have to win games they were expected to against Germany and Austria, and they could get a favorable matchup in the crossover from Pool B. For Canada, they have stumbled early in this tournament, but they can recover. If they were to win all three of their remaining matchups, they could still hope to win Pool A and get themselves the best possible matchup in the quarterfinals. It’s still early in the tournament for both countries, but only one will go to bed satisfied after this game.