The 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship ends the same way it began for Canada’s National Junior Team – facing off against Czechia. This time, though, there’s a gold medal on the line.
Canada shook off a slow start in its semifinal against the United States, scoring the game’s final six goals to earn a 6-2 win. Thomas Milic was spectacular in a 43-save effort, and Joshua Roy scored twice and added two assists. Connor Bedard had a goal and an assist to push his tournament total to 23 points, the third-most ever.
The Czechs won an absolute thriller to earn their place in the final, edging Sweden 2-1 in overtime in its semifinal. David Jirasek tied the game with 38.8 seconds left and Jiri Kulich won it in the final minute of the extra period, sending the Czechs to play for gold for the first time since 2001.
Canada had its Boxing Day party spoiled by the Czechs, dropping a 5-2 decision in the preliminary-round opener. Shane Wright opened the scoring and Connor Bedard made it a one-goal game in the second period, but a pair of power-play goals by Czechia on a five-minute advantage proved to be the difference.
WHAT TO WATCH
Bedard has had the headlines, and for good reason, but his linemates have been terrific. Logan Stankoven is tied for second in tournament scoring with 11 points (3-8—11) and has 22 in his World Juniors career (the eighth-most by a Canadian ever). Roy is up to 10 points, and was the best Canadian skater in the semifinal win. And let’s not forget about Milic. He has gotten progressively better as the tournament has gone along, and his 43-save effort against the Americans will live in World Junior’s lore.
The big names have stepped up for the Czechs on their unlikely run to the gold medal game. Jirasek, the sixth-overall pick by Columbus in the 2022 NHL Draft, tied the game in the last minute against Sweden and Kulich, the No. 28 pick by Buffalo, won it in overtime. And then there’s the experience. Czechia has a whopping 16 players back from the team that reached the bronze medal game in Edmonton last summer, including goaltender Tomas Suchanek, who has played every second in the tournament, registering a 1.30 goals-against average and .938 save percentage while chipping in offensively with a record four assists.
A LOOK BACK
Canada and Czechia (formerly the Czech Republic) have met 23 times at the World Juniors since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993. The Canadians have dropped just two of those games, the prelim meeting and a shootout setback in the preliminary round in 2013.
The teams are familiar foes in recent years. In addition to the opener 11 days ago, they also met in the semifinals (a 6-3 Canada win ) and the preliminary round (a 5-1 Canada win) last summer, in the prelims of the canceled 2022 tournament (a 6-3 Canada win) and the quarterfinals of the 2021 World Juniors in the bubble in Edmonton (a 3-0 Canada win).
All-time record: Canada leads 20-2-2 (0-1 in OT/SO)
Canada goals: 115
Czechia goals: 43