For the first time since Dec. 28, 2013, Team Canada has lost a game at the World Juniors to Czechia. On both occasions, Czechia was able to score five goals, but unlike in 2013, this game ended in regulation, with the final score being 5-2. Here are five takeaways from a disappointing performance by the Canadians to start the 2023 World Juniors.
Connor Bedard Sensational
Projected 2023 first-overall pick Connor Bedard was sensational in the game and one of the few bright spots for Canada overall. He was the only Canadian forward over 20 minutes, scored a goal and recorded 11 of the team’s 38 shots. During the first, he also tried to pull off the “Michigan goal” but was stopped by Tomáš Suchánek. He did everything he could to drive Canada to victory but, unfortunately, could not make up for the rest of his team’s less-than-stellar play.
It is clear Canada will be leaning heavily on Bedard, and luckily, he looks up to the challenge. Whether it was driving the net hard or creating scoring chances by getting shots on goal, he got better and better as the game progressed. He should have been named Canada’s best player and will need to replicate his performance if the Canadians have any desire of finishing first in their group.
Zach Dean’s Penalty Deflates Canada
In the second period, all of Canada’s momentum disappeared after Zach Dean received a game misconduct for an illegal check to the head or neck area. While many argued that the hit was not worthy of the penalty, the IIHF has very specific rules around any sort of contact around the head and neck. Even after a review, the penalty stood, and Canada was faced with a must-kill five-minute penalty.
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Instead of rising to the challenge, the Canadian penalty kill collapsed, allowing two goals in 33 seconds, making the game 5-3. While killing a five-minute penalty is never easy, there were significant flaws in how the Canadians played while shorthanded, allowing Czechia to generate chances and goals. Despite over a period remaining in the game, those two power play goals sucked all the life out of the building and players to the point where they could not recover.
Canada Can’t Find Spark
While Canada generated 14 shots in the third, they lacked that killer instinct needed to get back in the game. This is where head coach Dennis Williams should share in some of the blame. Instead of changing up the lines to generate a spark, he kept rolling with the same groupings despite poor performances from some of his top players up until that point.
Team Canada is stacked with talent, so Williams’ reluctance to try anything different was problematic. He has watched players like Kevin Korchinski and Reid Schaefer (Both 2022 first-rounders) dominate against his Everett Silvertips in the Western Hockey League for the past few seasons, yet played both under three minutes in the third. While a coach should be able to rely on his best players to step up on a nightly basis, he should also realize when it is not their night and be able to adapt to the situation.
Canada Must Be More Disciplined
Removing the Dean penalty, Canada was uncharacteristically undisciplined against Czechia. They took four additional penalties, including three straight, while trying to create momentum and come back in the late second and third periods. While their penalty kill was able to kill off the four penalties, it took time off the clock and gassed their defenders during the most crucial time of the game.
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The Canadians can argue calls all night, but they need to put themselves in better positions and not give the referees opportunities to send them to the box. The IIHF game is reffed differently than what most of these players are used to, so they need to adapt quickly in order to prevent giving the other team golden opportunities on the power play. Whether it is sticking the leg out for a trip or slashing the stick out of their opponent’s hands, these small details will be the difference between winning a gold medal and losing in the quarterfinals.
Poor Goaltending Leads to Loss
Benjamin Gaudreau did not have a good night in the crease. He stopped 12 of 17 shots and was pulled after the 5-2 goal in the second period. While one could make the case that he had no chance on the first or second goal, the final three allowed were all saves he should have made. Coming into the tournament, many believed Canada’s goaltending was their weak point, and it showed as it directly led to their loss against Czechia.
The good news for Canada is that Thomas Milic was very strong in relief. He made 10 saves over his 28 minutes of play and helped give the Canadians a chance to come back in the third period. If he can have another solid game in his next start, he will most likely become their starter for the rest of the tournament.
Must Win Game Against Germany Upcoming
The Canadians will get a day off to reset before they play the Germans on Dec. 28. While Germany may not have the firepower they have had over the past few tournaments, they do have some gifted players, including Julian Lutz, Luca Hauf, and Ryan Del Monte. In short, Canada can not afford another slip-up as they must win this game in regulation to keep their goal of finishing at the top of Group A at the end of the round-robin.