World Junior Championship Gold Medal Preview

The gold medal showdown has been set, and host Team Canada will face a determined Team Czechia. Czechia defeated Canada in the first game of the round-robin 5-2 and won first place in Group A – the only loss in the round-robin for Canada. Canada will be looking to make it back-to-back gold medals as they defeated Finland at the 2022 World Junior Championship (WJC) 3-2 in overtime (OT), while this will be the first time since 2001 that Czechia has been in a gold medal game. Here is a look at the matchup and what to expect.

Czechia Surprising Everyone With WJC Play

When the WJC started, there were no expectations for Team Czechia to win a medal at this year’s tournament. They were underdogs going into the first round-robin game against Canada but dominated with strong defence and solid goaltending and defeated the highly favoured Canadians 5-2. They went on to conquer Germany and Austria before losing in OT to Sweden.

Stanislav Svozil Czechia
Stanislav Svozil, Czechia (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Led by defencemen David Jiricek and David Spacek, Czechia uses a five-man style of defence and offence to control most of the play and stifle opposing teams’ offences. Czechia’s defencemen scored more goals than any other team’s defence in the tournament with 11, and their goalie Tomas Suchanek broke a WJC record for points by a goalie with four assists. Their offence, kickstarted by the back end, gave the Czechia team an advantage against their opponents, finishing second in goals with 24 and a goal differential of plus-18.

Canada Rebounds After Opening Loss

Canada was dejected after their opening loss to Czechia but put that game behind them and came back to easily defeat the rest of their group, including the solid Swedish team. After scoring only two goals in the first game, they scored 27 goals in the next three, led by their top line of Logan Stankoven, Joshua Roy and phenom Connor Bedard. Team Canada’s top line was dominant in this year’s tournament and could go down as the best in WJC history.

Connor Bedard Team Canada
Connor Bedard, Team Canada (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Canada’s defence and goaltending struggled the first couple of games at the WJC, allowing seven goals. Thomas Milic turned things around in the medal round and helped lead Canada to the gold medal game making huge saves when needed. With the defence and goaltending playing at the top of their game and the offence the best in the tournament, Canada is once again favoured to win gold.

Road to Gold

Czechia won Group A with ten points and lost only one game in OT. In the first round of the medal games, they faced the surprising Switzerland team, who finished fourth in their group only because they won three games in OT. Czechia easily handled the Swiss and defeated them 9-1 before facing Sweden to see who would play for gold. The Swedish team had strong defence and goaltending and held Czechia scoreless until the final minute of the third period when Jiricek tied it. Jiri Kulich ended up winning the game 2-1 in OT paving Czechia’s road to gold for the first time in 21 years.

Related: 2023 Guide to the World Junior Championship

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Canada’s road to gold was almost the opposite of Czechia’s: their first game in the medal round against Slovakia went right to the wire. Canada started the game quickly with a 2-0 lead, but in the third, Slovakia tied it after a slick behind-the-net pass from Filip Mesar to send the game to OT. In OT, Bedard scored one of the most memorable goals in tournament history, going through all three Slovaks before deking out the goalie and winning the game for Canada. They faced the USA next in a highly anticipated meeting, but after going down 2-0 early, Canada scored six unanswered goals to blow past the USA on their way to gold.

Rematch For Gold

The table is set for the rematch, and Canada hopes for a different outcome. Czechia will rely heavily on their defence at both ends of the ice; they will be involved in Czechia’s offensive attack and hope to keep Canada’s defence on their toes. As for Canada, they will rely heavily on the Bedard line, which has scored a whopping 44 points in six games. Basically, it will be a battle of the best defence and offence in the tournament.

The biggest match-up will be the goaltending: Suchanek versus Milic. Suchanek has had a consistently good tournament and could be the top goalie in the WJC, while Milic has gotten stronger in every game and has given Canada solid goaltending throughout the medal round. The key to Canada winning gold will be to get an early lead and maintain it, keep Czechia’s defence out of the offence and control the play. For Czechia to win, they will need to keep the Bedard line from scoring; if they can do that, they could win their first gold since 2001.

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