Canada’s toughest challenge to date put up a good fight right away, but it would be the Canadians who would finish with a 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic to stay undefeated at the U18’s in Switzerland.
Right off the opening faceoff, Pavel Zacha appeared to be the top player on the ice. Almost every time the Czech’s had a scoring chance in the first few minutes, Zacha was the one doing most of the work, He was rewarded for his effort with a good goal six minutes into the contest, when he picked up the puck at the blue line and, using his explosive speed, he blew past a Canadian defender before tucking it between the legs of Zachary Sawchenko with a nice deke.
The Czech’s really controlled the pace in the first, largely due to the play of Zacha. Ales Stezka was forced to make some tough stops in close for the Canadians, who have seen more success so far in the this tournament by having players standing in front of the net and leaving the defense to rip it home. That’s exactly what would lead to Canada’s first goal of the game late in the period, as Parker Wotherspoon’s shot blew past Stezka due to having four players between both teams clogging up his sight.
Both teams traded some solid opportunities in the second, but it would be the Canadians who would figure out how to score next. Six minutes in, Mathew Barzal made an incredible saucer pass on to the blade of Anthony Beauvillier’s stick, who made absolutely no mistake in beating Stezka with the quick wrister to make it 2-1 Canada.
Sawchenko did a stellar job of keeping his team in the game, but a blunder by Canada’s best forward with seven minutes to go in the second negated their lead. Barzal had a fairly flawless tournament up until this point, but after sending the puck from the corner right to Radek Koblizek in front, who scored an easy slap shot goal, the Canadians found themselves tied once again.
The third period saw a ton of great action right away. After some great saves by both Wotherspoon, a defenseman, and Sawchenko, and actual goaltender, the Canadians found themselves on an early power-play. Of course, Barzal had something to add to the NHL Draft conversation, blowing past multiple Czech’s before wrapping around the net and sending it off to Beauvillier, who one-timed the puck past Stezka for Canada’s second lead of the game. The assist gave Barzal his eighth point in just three games, tying him for first in tournament scoring with Finland’s Vili Saarijarvi. The goal also proved to be the final one in the battle, as Canada’s 3-2 victory would give them a 3-0 record
Canada and Finland will play in the final preliminary round game on Tuesday, a 9:45am EST start time.
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