BRECLAV, Czech Republic – Canada has earned home-ice advantage for the final of the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka under-18 hockey tournament – but fan support may be hard to come by.
The Canadians laid a 9-0 beating on the host Czech Republic on Thursday to clinch top spot in Pool A with a 3-0 record. The defending champions will face Russia on Saturday in a rematch of last year's gold-medal game, a 6-3 Canada victory.
The Russians' 8-4 win over Finland earlier Thursday meant that the Canadians needed to beat the Czechs by eight or more goals to secure home-ice for the final. Anything less, and Canada would have had to travel nearly 100 kilometres to Piestany, Slovakia for the gold-medal game.
The Canadians accomplished the feat, scoring twice in the first 1:11 and cruising the rest of the way in front of a decidedly pro-Czech crowd at the Alcaplast Arena.
“We knew that the crowd was going to give the Czechs a little bit of an edge,” said forward Tyler Toffoli. “We got a goal on the first shift, and a goal on the second shift, so we kind of took the crowd out of it.”
The quick start was exactly what head coach Bob Boughner was looking for. After ripping into his team between the first and second periods of Wednesday's win over Switzerland, Boughner pointed to the Czech result as proof the players were paying attention.
“I think (the coaches) made our point after the first period (Wednesday),” said Boughner. “They knew we weren't happy, we were upset about how we came out again.
“(Thursday), we talked about breaking the game down into three individual games, and wanted to win the first game. And that's what we did.”
Jeffrey Skinner of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers led the way for Canada with a pair of goals, giving him four in the past two games. Toffoli, of the OHL's Ottawa 67's, added a goal and two assists, while John McFarland of the OHL's Sudbury Wolves scored for the third game in a row.
Tyler Seguin of the OHL's Plymouth Whalers, Brock Beukeboom of the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Jordan Weal of the WHL's Regina Pats, Jaden Schwartz of the SJHL's Notre Dame Hounds and Sean Couturier of the QMJHL's Drummondville Voltigeurs also scored in the win.
Boughner was encouraged at the number of names on the scoresheet.
“It was nice,” said Boughner. “We had the scoring spread out amongst all four lines, and a couple of (defencemen) chipped in. That's important, to get everybody feeling good about themselves, and getting to where I can roll my bench. Hopefully that'll help us energy-wise for the next game.”
Louis Dominigue of the QMJHL's Moncton Wildcats stopped 23 shots to earn the shutout.
After playing three games in as many days, Boughner was relieved to have a day off before Saturday's gold-medal tilt.
“We'll take the day to just forget about the game, not even think about the game,” said Boughner. “We'll maybe have some meetings, show them some video, but mostly just relax and recharge the batteries for a big game.”
While a jaunt to Piestany wouldn't have been a major inconvenience, Toffoli said the team was happy to be able to stay in Breclav, where it played all three of its preliminary games.
“It's nice to play where we've played all week,” said Toffoli.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com)