BONNYVILLE, Alta. – Lucas Thierus (Saint-Eustache, Que./Saint-Jérôme, LHJQ) did the overtime honours, scoring 2:20 into the extra period to give Canada East a 2-1 win over the Czech Republic in the late semifinal Thursday at the 2016 World Junior A Challenge.
The victory sends the Canadians to the gold medal game for the fifth time in tournament history, and the first time since 2011. They will face the United States on Saturday night (5 p.m. MT, TSN) for the top prize.
A save by Stefano Cantali (Longueuil, Que./Longueuil, LHJQ) – his 33rd and final stop – fell at the feet of Tim Theochardis (Pickering, Ont./Carleton Place, CCHL), who fed Thierus at the face-off dot to the left of the Canadian netminder. He did the rest, blazing down the wing before wiring a wrist shot just inside the far post past Czech goaltender Petr Kvaca.
The game was a battle of the goaltenders, with Cantali and Kvaca combining to make 58 saves, and neither allowed a goal until the latter half of the third period.
After a relatively tame first period, both teams came out shooting in the second; the Czechs outshot Canada East 17-11 in the middle frame, but the game went to the second intermission scoreless.
The defences continued to clamp down in the third, with just two shots total in the first 10 minutes of the final frame, both by the Czechs.
But Vincent Chapleau (Longueuil, Que./Longueuil, LHJQ) finally broke through for the easterners with 8:24 to go, finding a bouncing puck in a scramble in front of the Czech net and swatting a backhand by Kvaca for a 1-0 lead.
Just as it did Wednesday in a quarter-final win over Canada West, the Czech Republic replied with Kvaca on the bench for an extra attacker in the dying moments; with the six-on-five advantage, the Czechs moved the puck into the slot for Kristian Reichel, who beat Cantali at 18:13 to force overtime.
Thierus’ goal keeps hope alive for a first gold medal for Canada East; it dropped the gold medal game to Canada West at the first two tournaments in 2006 and 2007, gave up a third-period lead in a loss to the U.S. in 2010, and came up short again against West in 2011.
Despite the loss, the Czechs will still play for a medal for the first time ever at the World Junior A Challenge; they will take on Russia on Friday night (7:30 p.m. MT) in the bronze medal game.
Lucas Thierus, Team Canada East forward, on scoring the overtime winner:
“Big save by Stefano [Cantali]. [Tim] Theochardis passed me the puck and I saw the defenceman flat-footed, so I just kept skating, skating, skating to the [face-off] dot, and just shot. Sometimes that shot goes in, sometimes it doesn’t, so I was happy [it went in]. Wearing the jersey, seeing the crowd … I couldn’t ask for more.”
Jason Clarke, Team Canada East head coach, on the effort of his team:
“It was definitely nerve-racking, but those are 22 kids who have a lot of character. You could tell from the game tonight that we selected the right 22 players [at selection camp]. Those kids play with a lot of pride and a lot of honour, and I’m so happy for them.”