EP Rinkside’s 3 Stars from the 2023 World Juniors medal round
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – The 2023 World Junior Hockey Championship is over, capped by two thrilling overtime games marked by dramatic comebacks and superstar performances.
Canada eclipsed a win nine days after a loss to the Czechs that sparked a brief and hysterical national reckoning with an exciting overtime rush goal from Dylan Guenther (Arizona Coyotes) that absolutely rocked the sell-out crowd at the Scotiabank Centre Nuts. With resale ticket prices starting at over a thousand dollars, they would have enjoyed it better.
What! A! Shot! Dylan Günther (#Yotes) smashes past the Czech keeper to give 🇨🇦 Canada 🇨🇦 an early 1-0 lead.
Brandt Clarke (#GoKingsGo) and Brennan Othmann (#NYR) endorse the game.
🎥: @TSN_Sports pic.twitter.com/R5Uwiwy3bs
— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) January 6, 2023
The first phase of the game was an imperfect but strong implementation of Canada’s game plan, indicating the adjustments made after the first loss. Thomas Milic, who came on as a team starter halfway through the game, was outstanding, making repeated blocker saves on deadly Czech counterattacks. The team’s discipline improved despite a handful of penalties, and the bottom six drove possession.
What happened next was an almost flawless illustration of how this edition of Canada was meant to be played. Shane Wright (Seattle Kraken) was a superstar, winning every close fight and scoring a beautiful goal in contrast to his all-workers tournament up to that point. Connor Bedard created chance after chance but they didn’t need him to carry the load in 5v5. Every time Nathan Gaucher (Anaheim Ducks), Zack Ostapchuk (Ottawa Senators), or Adam Fantilli (2023 NHL Draft) hit the ice, the Czechs just didn’t get the puck in the offensive zone.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SHANE WRIGHT 🥳
#SeaKraken forward puts Canada 2-0 up with a great individual effort!
Assists for Dylan Guenther (#Yotes) and fellow birthday boy Brennan Othmann (#NYR).pic.twitter.com/YOhAfQwIK4
— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) January 6, 2023
It was a clinic for only about 58 minutes. Then everything went wrong for Canada, as one would have expected.
The Czech strategy was evident throughout the tournament and they repeated it with great success regardless of opponent. Canada were so effective on the counterattack that we only saw it briefly and even then they managed to concede two goals.
It goes something like this. Establish offensive zone ownership by winning battles. Target pucks and fire them through bodies into the net, look for spikes and ricochets. Retrieve the puck, and when you can’t, go all out to prevent the defender from making a clean breakout pass. When the turnovers come, knock off the counterattack.
They certainly did, with two goals that stunned the Halifax crowd.
But Canada were the better team – even in that first game – and in the end talent won. Brandt Clarke (Los Angeles Kings) made some great defensive plays in overtime, fed the puck to breakout star Joshua Roy (Montréal Canadiens) and the pass landed on Gunther’s stick. Lift up.
BACK TO BACK WORLD JUNIORS GOLD FOR CANADA!
Dylan Gunther (#Yotes) wraps up the 2v1 to give 🇨🇦 Canada 🇨🇦 the overtime win against the Czech Republic for gold.
Joshua Roy (#GoHabsGo) and Brandt Clarke (#GoKingsGo) support the game
🎥: @TSN_Sports pic.twitter.com/Nn1qaj8271
— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) January 6, 2023
They learned from that loss and it showed.
“The way the tournament went for our group, how we struggled through defeat from the start, we refocused…it was an incredible feeling and I’m so proud of the lads and how they stuck together.” , said Canada’s head coach Dennis Williams.
The Czechs should be very proud of how they played. They earned “home ice” in that game by playing a game that suited their talented players, highlighted by a dominant blue line and an incredible goalkeeping performance from Tomáš Suchánek, the tournament’s media-chosen goalkeeper. They won the country’s first medal since 2005 and their first gold medal game since 2001.
At the end of the day, Canada pulled this one off and gave the historic Halifax crowd what they’ve been craving since Boxing Day. The average attendance rate in Halifax was over 92 percent of Scotiabank Center capacity, a tournament record. They were deafeningly loud the entire time, making the golden gate even more iconic.
The daily scoreboard
USA 8 – 7 Sweden (OT)
Canada – Czech Republic 3 – 2 (OT)
1. Dylan Gunther, RW, Canada (Arizona Coyotes)
Günther is a man of few words. His unfathomably calm demeanor throughout the ups and downs of the tournament was apparent to anyone who spoke to him, and apparently it even extended to his most recent, golden shift in overtime.
“I almost forgot it was overtime, do or die. I didn’t shed my gloves.”
Surely getting over 10,000 screaming fans on their feet must warrant some extreme emotions?
“Good play by Clarkey, 2v1, nice pass.”
Earlier in the tournament, Günther was similarly unenthusiastic about his hat trick and consistent goals, partly because it wasn’t 5v5. He has to put that aside as his two goals tonight weren’t equal either.
The first was a scintillating one-timer that made it 1-0 on the power play. The second was also a one-timer, in a 2-on-1 with Roy.
One theme arose throughout the tournament – Günther got into dangerous spots and didn’t make a mistake when he had a chance to score. Now he returns to Arizona with a gold medal in his pocket and the goal of his life – if he can remember it happening in overtime.
2. Shane Wright, C, Canada (Seattle Kraken)
Happy Birthday Shane Wright. The crowd actually serenaded the newly minted 19-year-old – without prompting from the jumbotron, I might add – but the better birthday present came a few periods later.
Wright suffered somewhat throughout the tournament due to a lack of flair and creativity, but tonight was an absolute clinic in all the things he quietly got right.
His fighting, his backchecking, his defensive play, his net front work. And one of the most eye-catching goals of the tournament got in the way too.
“That was one of the most beautiful goals I’ve ever seen,” Günther said.
“That was ridiculous!” laughed Bedard. “Crazy, yes, sick.”
“Seems like Bedsy would rub off on me, more of a play he’d pull off,” Wright disagreed.
Whatever came over him, it was a cathartic ending for a tournament where, contrary to stereotypical Canadian logic, the captain, who bowed his head and played the game of roleplaying, was taunted for being no match for a highlight generator was Offensive Star.
3. Tomáš Suchánek, G, Czech Republic (2023 re-entry)
Jiří Kulich is a man of few words in English, but he wasn’t shy when asked to describe Suchánek, calling the Czech goalkeeper ‘our angel’.
While some spectators might have seen it as smirking arrogance from afar, Suchánek’s consistent positivity and confidence throughout the tournament were much-needed qualities for the Czechs in goal. For the second time in the tournament he fended off a barrage of Canadian chances and it was obvious the confidence he instilled in the players before him.
Even in the devastating defeat, Suchánek understood the severity of his performance and that of his country.
“So proud. I’m really proud of everyone because they’ve been like family over the last four weeks and it’s absolutely amazing what we’re building here as a team and the result is really great.”
No one who’s seen his reaction to conceding the game-winning goal on a cross-slot one-timer would mistake that for second-place satisfaction. But the even keel and infectious attitude were undoubtedly central to the Czech team’s success, as were their knee-jerk, often acrobatic, saves throughout the tournament.
“I love everyone here, so it’s really easy to spread a positive energy. They’re like family to me.”
Chaz Lucius’ cathartic hat-trick
Chaz Lucius had to overcome some real odds to get to the point where his hat trick earned Team USA a medal. The Jets contender missed the U18s due to illness and the 2022 World Juniors tournament with a series of injuries that cut short his rookie hockey season.
The fact that he was the hero in perhaps the most memorable bronze medal game the juniors have ever seen hasn’t escaped his teammates’ notice.
“He’s a very detailed player and a pure goalscorer – he does that and he’s really good at it and I couldn’t be happier for him,” said defender Lane Hutson (Montréal Canadiens), who assisted the overtime winner.
“It feels deserved that I had the moment today,” Lucius admitted.
🇺🇸 Team USA 🇺🇸 won bronze!
Chaz Lucius (#GoJetsGo) with a backhand goal to give the Americans an 8-7 overtime win and a hat trick!
Lane Hutson (#GoHabsGo) and Red Savage (#LGRW) support the game.
🎥: @TSN_Sports pic.twitter.com/3vDDqC2JyY
— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) January 5, 2023
Team USA clinched the bronze medal in bizarre fashion that included a nine-goal second half in which one of the tournament’s top goaltenders was ripped and another shot at with eight goals, and both a lead and a tie in the dying seconds were achieved.
Lucius’ goal in the first half of 3v3 overtime was the culmination of chaos and a difficult journey.
highlights of the day
Luke Hughes (New Jersey Devils) didn’t bring home a gold medal, but the memory of that almost Alexander Ovechkin-esque spinorama/hookshot on his knees in the third period will likely shape him even before he’s ready to claim the bronze fetch on his mantelpiece.
What. A target. Luke Hughes (#NJDevils) sneaks past the Sweden keeper as he falls down to level that game 6-6 for 🇺🇸 Team USA 🇺🇸
Rutger McGroarty (#GoJetsGo) is the game’s only assist.
🎥: @TSN_Sports pic.twitter.com/1IIAnZRDyP
— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) January 5, 2023 Tournament All-StarsYour World Juniors stats for the day