Connor Bedard scored the overtime winner as Canada defeated Slovakia 4-3 in the quarterfinals at the 2023 World Juniors. From spectacular saves to a contender for the 2023 goal of the year, this game was an instant classic and will be talked about for years to come. Here are five takeaways from the game.
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Bedard Is Not Human
What more can be said about Bedard? He has been incredible all tournament, but his game against Slovakia was unmatched. With two goals and an assist, he is now Canada’s all-time leader in goals and points and is the first Canadian to eclipse 20 points in a single tournament. His performance really is mindboggling but is even more special as he is only 17 years old and hasn’t even been drafted into the NHL yet.
Bedard did everything in his power to ensure Canada got the win against Slovakia. He had 10 shots on goal, including five in overtime, and played 3:34 of the 5:17 in overtime. All this culminated in one of the greatest goals scored by a player ever at the World Juniors as he somehow weaved between three defenders to score the game-winner. He is a generational talent and has cemented himself as the greatest Canadian player ever at the World Juniors.
Spectacular Saves From Both Goaltenders
Both Thomas Milic and Adam Gajan were phenomenal in this game. While the Slovak keeper was far busier, Milic played lights out and bailed out Canada on multiple occasions with spectacular saves. He stopped 24 of the 27 shots he faced. He answered the call when needed and was praised post-game by Canadian coach Dennis Williams with him saying, “We don’t get there without Thomas (Milic) in net.”
Related: 2023 Guide to the World Junior Championship
As for Slovakia, Gajan put on a performance for the ages. He stopped 53 of 57 shots and was the main reason Slovakia was able to push the game to overtime. The 18-year-old made every save imaginable and should have been named Slovakia’s player of the game. Committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth for the 2023-24 season, he made his country proud by putting up arguably the goaltending performance of the tournament.
Canada Keeps Its Cool Despite Physical Game
From the start, this game was physical during play and after the whistles. Throughout the game, whenever the Canadians crashed the net, they were getting face washed or cross-checked by a Slovakia player. There were also big hits along the boards by Slovakia and one in the middle of the ice late in the second that caused Brandt Clarke to go flying, losing his helmet on the play.
While Canada engaged in the post-whistle scrums, they were very cautious to ensure they did not take a penalty. Instead, they skated away and got ready for the next faceoff. While Slovakia may have been the more physical team overall, the Canadians left the game victorious, which in the end, is most important.
WHL Leads Canada To Victory
The driving force behind Canada’s win was the Western Hockey League (WHL). Whether it was Bedard, Milic, Olen Zellweger, Logan Stankoven, Dylan Guenther, or Zack Ostapchuk, the best players against Slovakia were past or current WHLers. The WHL even had an effect on Slovakia, as Robert Baco and Jozef Kmec also had strong games.
Related: Zack Ostapchuk Is Canada’s Unofficial Leader
A big reason behind the success of the WHL for Canada is Williams, who coaches the Everett Silvertips. He is very familiar with these players and has been able to put them in positions to succeed. Whether that is the six mentioned above or depth players like Caedan Bankier, Reid Schaefer, Kevin Korchinski, and Noah Allan, his gamble to have such a large WHL contingency this year has paid off so far at the tournament.
Canada’s Faceoff Troubles Glaring Issue
A growing concern throughout the tournament has been Canada’s ability to win faceoffs. Against Slovakia, they won just 33 of the 73 total faceoffs. While some may argue its importance, a lost draw directly led to Slovakia’s first goal as Libor Nemec was able to score thanks to a clean win in the Canadian zone.
The biggest issue revolves around Shane Wright. While he does have a win percentage over 50% for the tournament, he finished at 40% against Slovakia, winning only 12 of his 30 faceoff attempts. As Canada’s number one center, he needs to step up his game in the faceoff dot, especially as Canada gets set for the USA, whose top three centers are all above 50%.
Another Chapter In the Canada/USA Rivalry Ready To Be Written
Canada will now face their biggest rival, the Americans, for a chance to go to the gold medal game. The two last met in the 2021 tournament, where on Canadian soil, the USA defeated Canada to win gold. Expect another exciting chapter as these North American foes battle it out once again.