Czech Republic 4 Canada 3
Canada has dominated what is now the Hlinka Gretzky Cup over the years, but the Czech Republic showed Saturday that they could very well be a championship contender in the 2018 under-18 tournament.
“Well, we beat Canada. I think that for the guys is one of the best things to happen now,” said Czech defenceman Martin Hugo Has, following his team’s 4-3 win over the Canadians in a pre-tournament contest in front of 1,228 spectators at the Red Deer Servus Arena.
“They’re all happy and I think we can go like this into the tournament and we can do a lot of stuff. The things we tell in the locker too, they worked. So that’s what we wanted to do. Things went good and we wanted it.”
Both teams displayed plenty of speed and a willingness to play a physical brand.
“Good pace out there, lots of intensity,” said Canadian forward Dylan Cozens, who scored once and added an assist. “They want to beat us, we want to beat them, so we’re both going as hard as we can to get the win.”
The Czechs stuck first when Marcel Barinka bolted down the right side and beat Canadian netminder Taylor Gauthier 8:54 into the contest.
Cozens pulled Canada even four minutes later when he converted his own rebound, but the visitors restored their lead on a late first-period goal from Radek Muzik, who beat Gauthier with a slap shot from the left circle.
Jakob Pelletier replied for the hosts early in the middle frame, picking the top corner from close range, but the Czechs took a permanent lead at 3:54 of the third period as Barinka converted a drop pass from Michal Teply.
“We played our game and it worked,” said Has. “We had some little mistakes but the coach said them in the locker room and we made them not be there. And then we worked to win.”
With Canadian forward Jamieson Rees serving a slashing infraction, Matej Toman potted the eventual winner at the midway point of the third, his point shot banking off the post and in.
The Czech Republic was one-for-five on the power play and enjoyed a five-on-three in the second period, while Canada was zero-for-three with a man advantage.
“We have to be better on that. In this tournament they’re calling more penalties than what we’re used to, so we have to buckle down on that and be more disciplined,” said Cozens, who in September will enter his second full WHL season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Canada got a late goal from Pelletier, who cashed a nifty feed from defenceman Bowen Byram — his second helper of the evening — then pushed hard over the final two minutes with Gauthier on the bench in favour of an extra attacker.
But Czech goalie Nick Malik held the fort and played a major role in the final outcome.
“Being at home and trying to get that comeback in the last couple of minutes . . . we know what it’s like now and we will be better next game,” said Cozens.
Malik turned in a solid effort, taking third-period goals away from Rees and Pelletier and finishing with 28 saves.
Gauthier also stopped 28 shots, including breakaway saves on Teply and Martin Lang.
“The first thing we have to work on is puck management,” said Cozens. “We turned it over too much and they were capitalizing off that. Too many odd man rushes. We have to bear down on that and be better next game.”
Canadian captain Alex Lafreniere agreed with his teammate.
“There are things in our game we can improve on,” he said. “Our puck management wasn’t there tonight, we gave them too many chances. They’re a skilled team, but if we clean it up we should be good.”
Cozens isn’t worried that Saturday’s setback is an indication of how the Canadian team will fare in the tournament, which starts for real on Monday.
“We’re going to be a good team, for sure,” he stated. “This is just our first time playing together and getting used to each other, so we’re confident going into this tournament and we think we’ll be a good team.
“We’re coming together good and quick. There was a lot of battles and intensity in camp and that brought us all together. We’re all good, we’re ready to go.”
Canada will play its preliminary games in Edmonton in Pool A with Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland, while the United States, Czech Republic, Finland and Russia will compete in Pool B at the Servus Centre, with two games on each of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
In other pre-tournament contests Saturday:
° Forward Oleg Zaytsev, who will join the Red Deer Rebels this season, scored once and added one assist as Russia blanked Switzerland 7-0 at Lacombe.
The Russians also got three helpers from Nikita Sedov while outshooting the Swiss 54-20.
° Alexander Holtz potted the shootout winner as Sweden slipped past Finland 4-3 at Penhold.
Lucas Raymond tallied twice for the winners, while Holtz also contributed two assists. Sweden held a 40-30 advantage in shots.
° At Sylvan Lake, Josh Groll and Nicholas Robertson each scored twice and contributed an assist to lead the United States past Slovakia 10-4.
Martin Chromiak notched two goals for the Slovaks, who were outshot 61-29 and gave up four power-play goals.