WJC 2023 3 Up, 3 Down: Czechia Moves Onto the Final

Entering this game, Sweden held the upper hand having won against Czechia in a pre-tournament game, then an overtime win in the round-robin. Czechia entered knowing they had the opportunity to end their country’s 22-year drought from the World Junior Championship (WJC) Final. In this 3 Up, 3 Down column, we look at some of the highs and lows of this game.

Up No. 1: Adjustments 

Sweden adjusted their wingers to eliminate the scissor move Czechia uses at the top of the zone to generate time and space. Also, the defense played more physically, clearing the front of the net to give Carl Lindbom better lines of sight. It has taken nearly error-free hockey to keep pace with the bigger and stronger Czechia forwards.  

Marc Dumont is almost right. Adam Engstrom has made all the right choices, except one, he hasn’t had a Donair yet, and in Halifax, that’s a sin.

By anticipating the aggressive Czechia forecheck, Sweden’s defense was able to adjust with better positioning and puck protection. The larger adjustment came from the position of Sweden’s centers in the defensive zone, placing them closer to the defense to allow for a short pass which gave the center some time and space to have the choice to carry the puck out or chip it out. 

Czechia has adjusted to Sweden’s forecheck as well. As they dump into one corner, then flood that side to create a small area man advantage, Czechia adjusted by reversing the puck direction and using the added space on the former weak side to transition out of the zone. Both teams also made a concerted effort in keeping shifts short. This allowed for both sides to play an aggressive puck pursuit style, taking away time and space to make plays. 

Down No. 1: Feeling Out 

The game had a slow start as the two teams spent the entire first period probing the other’s system. While they each had a power play (PP), no one team held momentum or controlled the game for more than a shift at a time. Neither defense was giving much time or space to the other either.

David Jiricek Team Czechia
David Jiricek, Team Czechia (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

They were tip-toeing around each other waiting for the other to make a mistake. By the end of the first period, Sweden had a paltry six shots on the net, and only one could be deemed a scoring chance. As for Czechia, they didn’t have a much better total with only nine shots. They had perhaps two scoring chances if you’re using a team-friendly standard.  

Up No. 2: Overtime 

As mentioned, the game was fairly quiet with both teams feeling each other out. Czechia steadily worked their way to 29 shots on goal in regulation. With the net empty, David Jiricek made the last shot in regulation count as his blast from the point tied the game with 38 seconds remaining. 

“I just started jumping and screaming and run to him and just screaming and hugging everyone”

– Tomas Suchanek 

This set the stage for a very exciting three-on-three overtime. Sweden led that final frame with five shots, two of which could have been a goal had it not been for the play of Tomas Suchanek.  

“For real, I don’t remember how I scored. I will watch some replay of the goal but yeah, it was like a dream. The last thing I do remember is Matyas Sapovaliv pass it to me and that’s all. The celebration was just awesome.“

– Jiri Kulich 

In the end, Kulich played the hero scoring on only the second shot for Czechia in overtime, by placing a puck to the far side just under Lindbom’s blocker side arm while cutting to the net.

Down No. 2: Trap 

The entire game in regulation was both teams playing the trap (internal screams intensify) or a variation of it. Added to it was the consistent dump and chase. The overtime period was the only one they didn’t play that style of game, likely because they were three-on-three. 

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Understandably, neither team wanted to make the mistake that would gift a goal to the opponent. For Sweden, who have a defense corps that is at a size disadvantage to Czechia’s forwards, it makes sense to play the trap as it buys them an extra second or two to clear the zone. For the Czechia defense, however, it mutes their best asset in the neutral zone, mobility, and puck movement. But it does simplify the system defending against the very skilled forwards for Sweden. 

Up No. 3: A Determined Czechia 

After losing in overtime against Sweden in the round-robin, Czechia was determined to get revenge by remaining methodical in its approach, and sticking to its system. Part of that system was to be relentless in their pursuit of the puck, rolling four lines that would all consistently challenge for possession. Czechia was ruthless and gave no quarter to anyone in a yellow sweater.  

“We know that if we play our game, we’re one of the best teams. The team is really strong mentally. We just believe and go on”

– Jakub Brabenec 

The attention to detail and consistency also gave Czechia a berth to its first gold medal game at the WJC since 2001. Win or lose, it will be their best finish at this tournament since earning a bronze medal in 2005. 

Down No. 3: Goalie Duel Had to End 

The biggest downside of this game was that the goalie duel had to end. A shootout might have been worth watching if only to see how Suchanek and Lindbom would perform. Lindbom had the busier night, making the most saves, several of which will be on highlight reels. 

The edge on this night ended up going to Suchanek as he was able to make a few key saves in the game, especially in the extra frame. His play gave Czechia the confidence to stick to their game plan and look for openings to attack. 

Tomas Suchanek is our angel. He’s such a great goalie, we are so happy to have him.  

– Jiri Kulich

In the end, Sweden lost not because of an error defensively, or a misread by the goaltender, but simply on Kulich making a high-skill play that took the win. Lindbom’s performances up to this point should make him the top goaltender of this tournament. He did have the biggest role of any goalie in carrying his team to wins, or at the very least, keeping them in the game and providing a chance to come away with a win.

In the end, Czechia gets its revenge for the overtime loss to Sweden in the round-robin. They now move on to play in the gold medal game for the first time since 2001. Their opponent will be the host country Canada, a matchup that Suchanek has stated will be a win for his side. For Sweden, they will face the United States who will be looking to earn a medal and wash the taste of a fifth-place finish in 2022 from their mouths.

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