WJC 2023 3 Up, 3 Down: Czechia vs Sweden

Sweden was facing their first true matchup of equals in the tournament courtesy of Team Czechia. This game was to determine who would hold first in Pool A with one game remaining, setting the winner up for a guaranteed spot in the quarterfinals. In this 3 Ups, 3 Downs column, we look at some of the highs and lows of this game.   

Up No. 1: Czechia’s Grit 

Like the opening match against Canada, Czechia came out ready for battle. They played a physical brand, finishing every check. More importantly, their aggression was also focused on puck pursuit as they used their speed to close with the Swedish puck carrier and remove any time or space, forcing them to dump the puck and turn it over or risk losing the puck and allowing an odd-man rush.  

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

Using their physical advantage, Czechia caused Sweden to constantly look over their shoulders and scan where the next hit was going to come from. This aggressive puck pursuit was instrumental in cutting off some of the speed in Sweden’s transition game, which is the main source of their offence. 

Down No. 1: Slow Start  

Sweden had an uncharacteristically slow start to the match. They were only able to get four shots on goal and were unable to sustain any pressure, possession, or generate high-danger chances. Sweden assembled a deep and skilled forward group, so more is expected of this group, especially in an important matchup that has a direct impact on who could be crowned as the top team in Pool A. 

Related: 2023 Guide to the World Junior Championship   

After the first intermission, Sweden’s legs seemed to wake up in the second period. Montreal Canadiens prospect Adam Engstrom spoke of what adjustments Sweden made. “We need to keep the structure in the defensive zone. It is an important thing for us to be careful on the blue lines because they (Czechia) are very good at creating turnovers.” Taking advantage of a power play early in the second came about because of their return to a more structured game. Their forecheck led to sustained pressure in the offensive zone and drew the penalty.  

Up No. 2: Sweden Goaltending 

Carl Lindbom had another strong start in this tournament. He was called on almost immediately as he made a big save in the first minutes as Czechia was pressing. Despite only seeing seven shots against in the first period, Czechia ensured that every shot was a quality opportunity, including three high-danger chances that Lindbom had to turn away. Czechia threw everything they could at Lindbom to throw him off his game but simply couldn’t solve him, and if they did, Sweden’s backcheck provided support, even along the goal line. 

“Their goalie for Sweden (Lindbom) was great, so good for them for the win and now we got to be ready for Germany”

– David Moravec 

Lindbom’s focus to start each period was tested by Czechia, who got scoring chances in each period before the two-minute mark and in overtime. Late in the second period, he made his best save. A play that broke down during four-on-four play, Chmelar was left alone in the slot. Lindbom made the initial save off a shot from the wing, then kicked a leg out to styme the Czechian forward on the rebound. His play ensured Sweden remained in the game and had a chance to win. 

Down No. 2: Puck Luck 

Sometimes a game just comes down to a favorable bounce. In this game, Czechia lacked those bounces. They played well enough to earn a win in regulation, and even to take the extra point in overtime. Unfortunately for them, the bounces went Sweden’s way. 

Twice, Sweden had a loose puck on the goal line with Lindbom unable to reach it. Both times, Sweden’s speed on the backcheck paid off as they were able to sweep the puck off the line, and in the extra frame, counterattack immediately and score the winning goal. 

Up No. 3: Statement Game 

Czechia came into the tournament as an underdog yet have been able to go toe to toe with the top teams so far. However, they put a team together that was built to play a style ideal for the NHL playoffs. Grit, speed, size, and physicality, all excellent qualities for a short tournament on NHL-sized ice surfaces.  

“Last year the guys worked so hard. So now we have the motivation to beat Germany and get to playoffs”

– David Moravec 

Czechia has played this style the entire tournament and are motivated to be more than a tough out, as they want the gold medal to prove they are one of the elite hockey nations. 

Down No. 3: Injuries 

Fans want to see the best players. Teams want to beat their opponents when they are at their best. Unfortunately, Sweden had to make do without Boston Bruins prospect Fabian Lysell, the loss of Vancouver Canucks prospect Elias Pettersson and 2023 draft-eligible Leo Carlsson. 

While Engstrom said after the game, “We have a good team overall, so we stick to our plan as usual,” it had to have a significant impact. The coaching staff would have had to adjust for the loss of a defender and two skilled forwards. Though team depth won out in this matchup in the end, Sweden will not want to go without those three team members for too long.  

This game was one of the more exciting games of the tournament so far. In the end, the game came down to a bounce and some skillful defense. As if drawn up by Sweden’s coaching staff, that defensive play turned into a rush on the transition to spring Ludvig Jansson to cut to the net and play the hero. 

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