Jaroslav Chemeler and Matous Mensik scored 33 seconds apart during a five-minute power play as Czechia stunned Canada 5-2 in the opener for both countries at the world junior men’s hockey championship Monday.
Stanislav Svozil and David Spacek, with a goal and an assist each, and David Moravec provided the rest of the offence for underdog Czechia, the country commonly known as the Czech Republic.
Tomas Suchanek was stellar in making 36 saves behind a structured, determined group.
Shane Wright, with a goal and an assist, and Connor Bedard replied for Canada. Benjamin Gaudreau allowed five goals on 17 shots before being replaced by Thomas Milic in the second period. Milic finished with 10 saves for the suddenly wobbly tournament favourites who lost to the Czechs for the first time in 3,285 days.
Sweden hammered Austria 11-0 in Group A’s other game.
Looking for its 20th gold medal after winning on home soil in Edmonton this past summer, Canada suffered just its second loss in 24 meetings with the Czechs at the men’s under-20 showcase since 1994, with the only other defeat coming in a shootout in the 2013 preliminary round.
Down 3-2 in the second period Monday, Canada crumbled after forward Zach Dean was assessed a match penalty for an illegal check to the head.
With Dean taking an early shower, Chemeler banged home a loose puck from Gaudreau’s doorstep at 8:14 before Mensik fired from a sharp angle moments later to end a netminder’s forgettable night.
Canada pushed as the period wore on, but Suchanek was there to deny Brennan Othmann on a frantic power play before Wright hit the post late in the period.
The Canadians got a power play early in the third, but were unable to connect, and the quietly confident Czechs kept their cool from there to secure an improbable victory.
The first “normal” world juniors since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — 2021 was played in a bubble before the 2022 event was postponed eight months — fans inside a frothing Scotiabank Centre were ready from puck drop.
The tournament hosts had a number of early chances, including Adam Fantilli’s attempt at “The Michigan” that was thwarted by Spacek, before pushing ahead on a power play.
After the Czechs were whistled for goaltender interference on a sequence where the puck wound up in Gaudreau’s net, Wright tipped Olen Zellweger’s point shot for the Canadian captain’s first-ever world junior goal.
Bedard then had Canada’s second effort at completing “The Michigan” — where a player picks the puck up on his stick behind the net and tries to tuck it upstairs — before Brandt Clarke’s 2-0 goal was nixed by an offside review.
That seemed to energize Czechia.
Spacek scored on a backdoor play where he caught Fantilli napping defensively before Moravec’s seeing-eye point shot 35 seconds later gave the Czechs an unlikely 2-1 lead through 20 minutes.
Svozil put the Czechs ahead by two 44 seconds after the intermission when he was given too much room coming down off the point, but Bedard responded 45 seconds after that off a turnover to ignite the red-clad Maritime crowd hosting the world juniors for the first time in 20 years.
But Dean’s hit on defenceman Ales Cech resulted in the five-minute penalty that would extend the underdog Czech’s lead to three and leave Canada with plenty of questions.
Canada’s goal song for the first world juniors to be played on the East Coast in 20 years is “Heave Away” by The Fables, a Celtic rock band from St. John’s, N.L.
Czech defenceman David Jiricek’s equipment didn’t arrive in Halifax until Monday afternoon thanks to the winter storm that walloped central and Eastern Canada last week.
The No. 6 pick at the 2022 NHL draft — property of the Columbus Blue Jackets and a member of the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters — was supposed to join his teammates Friday in Halifax, but didn’t get out of Toronto until 48 hours later.
Jiricek was on the ice for his team’s morning skate — in borrowed gear — and was a game-time decision until his bag was driven from the airport to the arena.
Canada: Faces Germany on Wednesday.
Czechia: Faces Austria on Tuesday.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press