Canada remained a perfect 3-0 with an impressive 5-1 win over the Czech Republic tonight at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Five different scorers contributed to Canada’s offence, and goalie Mike DiPietro made some huge saves to preserve the win. He faced only 24 shots, but many were first-rate chances.
“Coach was stressing to build on each game, and today was really good,” DiPietro said. “We were facing a really good opponent, but we did our homework and executed our game plan. It was a good night.”
The win sets up a huge New Year’s Eve showdown with Russia which will likely determine which team finishes in top spot in Group A.
“It’s going to be a passionate game,” DiPietro enthused. “It’s going to be about managing emotions, not getting too high or too low during the game.”
The Czechs are not yet in the quarter-finals. With two points, they’ll still have to beat Denmark (no points) earlier on 31 December or lose in overtime or a shootout.
“We’re not playing as well as we should,” lamented Czech assistant captain Martin Kaut. “We played really well the first couple of minutes, but Canada’s first line comes right at you. They dominated. But we need to be better–me, Necas, Zadina. We need to score on the power play. Now, we play in two days and must beat Denmark.”
Canada opened the scoring thanks to crisp puck movement in the Czech end. Owen Tippett made a nice play to get it to captain Maxime Comtois, and he ripped his fifth goal of the tournament past Jiri Patera. Only Philipp Kurashev of Switzerland has as many goals.
Even as the crowd was celebrating the goal, though, the Czechs were orchestrating one of their own. Jared McIsaac made an unwise pinch at the Czech blueline, creating an odd-man rush the other way, and Jan Jenik made a great pass to Ondrej Machala. He converted nicely just 37 seconds after Canada’s goal, making it a 1-1 game.
The Canadians were relentless, though. They created a power play midway through the period and Brett Leason made a beautiful deflection of a Ty Smith point shot to put the home side in front at 11:32.
“We wanted to put the goal behind us and make the next shifts our best,” said Canadian Jack Studnicka. “After that, Mikey didn’t look back. I’ve known him ten years, and he’s one of the mentally strongest guys I know. He played his game tonight after that goal.”
They weren’t done. Studnicka and 17-year-old Alexis Lafreniere exchanged short, fast passes, the end result being a wicked wrist shot by Lafreniere to the top corner, over Patera’s glove.
Canada was more patient in the second and got the only goal of the period, but not until DiPietro earned a huge ovation for two huge saves early. He stoned Machala and Jenik with massive pad saves seconds apart to keep it a 3-1 game, lifting fans out of their seats.
Appropriately, Canada responded. Studnicka started the play with a great effort to move the puck up ice. He got it to Joe Veleno who put it on the stick of MacKenzie Entwistle going hard to the net, and Enthistle made it 4-1 at 14:41.
The Czechs were none too happy when a Canadian player seemed to hit Jachym Kondelik with a head hit that went unpenalized midway through the third. Just a few seconds later, Martin Necas incurred a minor and misconduct penalty for hitting from behind, and Canada pounced. Nick Suzuki set up Morgan Frost for an empty net one-timer off a great pass, making it 5-1 and increasing the tension between the teams.
But now the Czechs have to sweat it out for a couple of days and Canada can prepare for another showdown against their greatest arch-rivals. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere,” said Studnicka.