EDMONTON – Canada got goals from four players and goalie Scott Wedgewood, making his U20 debut, was flawless in leading Canada to a 5-0 victory. Wedgewood even chipped in a key assist along the way and stopped all 26 shots he faced.
Mark Scheifele got two goals and Tanner Pearson had two assists. Eleven different players had points in the game.
"He did a great job," said forward Ryan Strome. "He did everything he was supposed to do and had an assist. He pretty much did it all. Every time we needed a lift he was there and made a great save."
"I made some saves that gave me confidence, and my teammates helped me a lot. It was pretty cool," Wedgewood said. Coach Don Hay hinted Mark Visentin might start tomorrow night against Denmark, simply because of the rest factor, but Wedgewood has been the better of the two and has earned at least one more start.
Canada’s dominance against the Czech Republic continues. Since 1994 after the Czechs gained full independence, Canada has not lost (12 wins, 2 ties) and holds a goal differential of 66-20 in those 14 games (including tonight).
But tonight was different. In truth, the Czechs were right in the game for the first 36 minutes, and a bounce here or there might have changed the game's outcome at that point.
Canada got on the board at 5:37 thanks to some fine play behind the Czech net by the team’s top line. Jonathan Huberdeau made a great play cycling the puck and avoiding defenceman Lukas Sedlak. Huberdeau powered out front and tried to stuff the puck in, but goalie Petr Mrazek made the stop.
All the goalie could do was get his stick down, and the rebound came right to Mark Stone at the far side. He snapped it home for his fourth goal of the tournament, sending the Canadian crowd into a frenzy.
The first period had a little bit of everything. Canada continued to dominate, using superior strength to maintain possession in the Czech end. The Czechs, though, looked dangerous periodically on quick counter attacks, but Wedgewood made the saves when called upon.
The Czechs had a great chance to tie the game late in the period when they had a two-man advantage for 63 seconds, but they created few good scoring chances. The successful penalty killing also brought the fans and Canadian players alive, and much of the remaining minutes were spent in the Czech end.
In the final minute, Jiri Riha closed his hand on the puck in the crease, saving a goal but forcing a penalty shot. Stone took it, but his strategy of deke-and-stuff didn’t fool Mrazek for a second. The cocky goalie went down on one knee for a first pump after the save, inciting the crowd but giving his own team some spirit as the period came to a close.
The second period was dominated by Canada, but it seemed as though the Czechs could have caused more trouble than they did. Canada had two early power-play chances but didn’t do much on either, and this gave the Czechs some confidence. They played evenly with the hosts for much of the time, and even after 36 minutes it was still a one-goal game.
"We played well 37 minutes, then we had a penalty kill, and had a fortunate goal," Mrazek noted.
But soon enough, the opportunity lost, the Czechs fell into a deep hole. Wedgewood made a great pass up ice on a Canada power play and Freddie Hamilton cut in on goal only to be stoned by Mrazek. The puck followed Hamilton, though, and he swept it back towards the goal. Ryan Strome had an empty net to make it 2-0.
Less than two minutes later, Brett Connolly made it 3-0, taking a shot that squeaked through Mrazek’s pads towards the goal line. Connolly followed the shot to the goal and poked the loose disc over the line. This was the demoralizing goal for the Czechs whom one could tell felt they had lost their chance to pull off an upset.
Some tenacious forechecking from Tanner Pearson created Canada’s foruth goal at 9:00 of the third. He hounded David Musil behind the Czech goal until forcing a turnover, and then from his knees passed it out front to Scheifele who made Pearson’s efforts worth it with a perfect shot.
Scheifele then added his second on a late power play, but the rest of the period was chippy and looked to be one push or shove away from chaos.
Perhaps the only disappointing part of the game for Canada fans happened after the game. As the sold-out crowd chanted Wedgewood's name, Freddie Hamilton was named player of the game. "That’s the first time this ever happened to me," Wedgewood said. "It was pretty surreal. I just turned around and sipped my water, and they stand up and cheer me on. It was great support here in Edmonton."
Canada continues its Group B play tomorrow against Denmark while the Czechs next play on Thursday against the United States.
"We played very well and our goalkeeper was very strong," said Huberdeau. "Every game is important, and tomorrow we try to be ready at the rink and put the puck into the net. Every team that plays against us comes out hard and wants to play their best game"
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)