Mark Masters: For Team Canada revenge is a dish best served gold
The Czech Republic humiliated Canada on Boxing Day.
“They celebrated like they won the gold medal,” recalled winger Joshua Roy. “They were quite cocky. We won’t forget it.”
Team Canada isn’t just looking for a gold medal Thursday. They’re out for revenge too.
“As we walked off the ice after the game, we heard them cheering and that’s just a little extra motivation for us,” said captain Shane Wright. “We hate losing, especially when a team is like ‘Wooooo!’ says. in our faces like that. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen again tonight. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again tonight. I want to make sure we’re the team that’s going to celebrate afterwards. “
The pain of that opening defeat of the tournament is still fresh in Canadian players’ minds. They now view it as a painful turning point.
“It’s a gold medal game so there’s more at stake than hitting back,” said winger Dylan Gunther. “But it adds a little fire underneath you. They kind of embarrassed us in that first game. It made us better as a team and we will be better and ready for them tonight.”
The audience will be ready too.
“It’s going to be great,” said Czech goalkeeper Tomas Suchanek. “They’re playing at home. The fans don’t really like us here. They’re always cheering for someone else, but it will be fun to beat them.” [a] for the second time in the same tournament.”
“We know it will be a different game to the group,” warned captain Stanislav Svozil. “Canada wasn’t that good. It will be different.”
The Czech Republic is the top seed in the World Junior Bracket and will have the final exchange advantage in the gold medal game.
“They’re a strong, physical team,” Wright said. “They are well structured. They play the game correctly and don’t give you an inch. You have to earn every chance, chance and chance to score.”
The banter between Regina Pats’ teammates Svozil and Connor Bedard began even before the end of the gold medal rematch. They spoke briefly after the Czech Republic defeated Sweden in the semifinals.
“I just said, ‘Good luck. I want to play you in the final. I want to beat you again,'” Svozil said with a smile.
“He was pretty excited,” Bedard said after Canada’s win. “I told him I’ll see him tomorrow night. I’m glad it worked out that way in the end.”
Svozil chirped Bedard at every opportunity in the preliminary round.
“There will be a lot of chirping between us,” said a grinning Bedard, “but it’s all just for fun.”
Svozil knows Bedard better than anyone at Team Czechia, but even he doesn’t know everything the 17-year-old phenomenon is capable of.
“I know his tricks but I didn’t know that he would score that goal in extra time against Slovakia,” said Svozil. “I thought he was going to shoot but he didn’t. It was a great move.”
Ben Gaudreau allowed five goals on 17 shots before being drawn on Boxing Day. Thomas Milic stopped all 10 shots with relief and has been building momentum ever since.
Milic, who was twice passed over in the NHL draft, was named Canada’s player of the game on Wednesday night. The Halifax crowd chanted his name.
“It was incredible,” he said. “It’s definitely the best moment of my hockey career and maybe of my life. It’s very special. Just a shout out to my family. That’s the last name.”
Milic stopped 43 of 45 shots. What was he most proud of?
“How I kept my composure early on,” said the 19-year-old. “It’s not easy to give up two in the first half against a team like that when you know they like to take over games. After that I made some good saves and kept everyone even in the next half. So, my head hardness was good.”
Milic pushed the Seattle Thunderbirds back to the WHL championship series last spring. He averaged a .925 save ratio in 25 playoff games.
“It’s just what I love,” he said of pressure moments. “It’s something I’ve always had in me since I was young. I love these high-pressure situations and the further we progress here in the tournament, the better it gets.”
Roy designs a similar plot. He had two goals and two assists against the Americans.
“He was unreal,” Bedard said. “He’s one of the smartest players I can play with. It’s amazing how he dominated that game and stepped up his game when it mattered.”
Roy scored at the gold medal game in Edmonton in August.
“Last year was an incredible summer and I just want to do it again,” said the Montreal Canadiens fifth-place finisher.
Roy had eight goals and 23 points in 11 playoff games with Sherbrooke last season.
“I just like moments like that when I’m playing against a good team,” he said. “It’s always nice to play these games and especially here with the crowd. It gives us momentum. I feel great when moments like that happen.”
“There aren’t many occasions when he doesn’t finish or make the right play around the net,” observed defender Brandt Clarke.
Roy is also emerging as a major penalty killer in Halifax. He had the fans on their toes in the second period of the semifinals with a great shorthanded move.
“I’ve never really played PK before,” he said. “I respect my role. We’re all good players here who can play offensively. Almost everyone on the team plays on their respective team’s power play and we need people to kill.”
Assistant coach Stephane Julien, head of the Sherbrooke bank where Roy plays, oversees the penalty shootout here.
“It’s easier for me because it’s the same as Sherbrooke, so I know what it is,” Roy said. “Just stay focused and respect the game plan.”
When was the last time a country repeated itself as world champion at the World Juniors?
“That was 2009, wasn’t it?” Clarke said with a big smile. “So I was in the building for that. Hoping I can be back in the building.”
Canada won its fifth consecutive title in Ottawa. Clarke attended every game including the gold medal showdown against Sweden.
“It was crazy,” said the Los Angeles Kings defenseman. “I remember the electricity in the building. I remember being outside driving away from the Canadian Tire Center and everyone honked their horns. Everybody has the Canadian flags out their windows and stuff like that. Those were about the first memories I have. It was the first realization that this is what I want to do with my life. It’s kind of a full circle moment now.”
Wright turns 19 on Thursday.
“Everyone wishes me a happy birthday,” he said with a smile.
Growing up, he always celebrated by watching the World Juniors.
“It’s a bit more special now that I’m actually playing here,” he said. “Winning a gold medal for your country is a special moment, especially for me, given what happened last December [with the COVID cancellation], so I’m really looking forward to tonight. I really want to seize this evening and enjoy the moment.”
Wright has been kept off the goalscoring chart in consecutive games and is still looking for his first equal goal of the tournament. Does he feel due?
“Maybe a little,” he said. “I do a lot of things right, create a lot of chances and play well. Even if I’m not on the top scorer list, I can get involved in other ways. I want to contribute offensively and top the scorer list, but if I don’t, there are other ways I can influence the team.”
Wright, Guenther and Brennan Othmann had a lot of success together at the 2021 U18 World Cup but have yet to really take off as a line in Halifax.
“I don’t think we had our best game yesterday,” said Günther. “The second half of our game was better but there are areas we can build on. It starts with the little things. It starts with being ready, getting the puck back and beating the other team.”
Wright, Othmann and Clarke played together in minor hockey with the Don Mills Flyers. They won the 2019 OHL Cup together and also helped Canada win gold at the 2021 U18 event. Thursday could be their last game as teammates.
“These guys have been with me every step of the way,” Wright said. “Always been there for me. Tonight might be the last time we play together…it’s kind of special that all three of us are here after everything we’ve been through together. We have to go out and make the most of this night and enjoy every second of it.”
Othmann celebrates his 20th birthday on Thursday.
Canada won two challenges from the coach due to goalkeeper interference during the semi-final win. Video coach James Emery and assistant coach Alan Letang radioed assistant coach Brent Kisio on the bench to let staff know the challenges were going to be successful.
“Brent was in my ear and ultimately it’s my decision,” said head coach Dennis Williams. “But when they’re that confident and Brent tells me they’re 100 percent confident, those are the guys that I trust and go along with. They did a fantastic job of being able to read it so quickly and having the confidence to make those calls. They know the rule book inside and out.”
Canada would have been assessed a game delay penalty in the event of a false challenge.
“Thanks to the guys up there,” Williams said. “We always say it’s a team game and the guys at the top are just as important. Having the confidence to call down were two big swing moments.”
Canada received a video message of support from Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby ahead of Wednesday’s game against the United States.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Wright, who played against Crosby in the NHL that season. “Obviously he’s one of the greatest of all time and also a Canadian legend in hockey. Pretty cool to hear the news from him and to hear he’s cheering us on and watching.”
“Probably everyone’s favorite player growing up in this room,” said Günther. “It’s special to hear from a guy like that. He went through it too.”
Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman paid a visit to the team’s locker room to speak with the players ahead of the semifinals showdown.
The ice quality at the Scotiabank Center was not great, which affected Canada’s approach.
“Keep things simple, especially in the neutral zone,” stressed Günther. “They’re a good team. They’ll be good in the transition game like USA were last night. They were quick and turnovers in the neutral zone can hurt you so it’s just a matter of managing and knowing the puck well , when you have.” your options to go. Sometimes you need to cut bait. That’s another good team over there and when they’re solid with their structure we need to cut bait and get in behind them and work on the precheck.
The second break was extended Wednesday night by two minutes to allow arena staff to work on the ice.