EDMONTON – Peter Holik's goal at 12:26 of the third period broke a 2-2 tie and led the Czechs to a stunning 5-2 victory over the United States this afternoon at Rexall Centre.
Goalie Petr Mrazek was nothing short of brilliant, stopping 52 of 54 shots, including a penalty shot by Josh Archibald with the game on the line in the third. Mrazek later took a shot at the empty American net and missed by inches becoming the first goalie in U20 history to score.
"Mrazek was amazing. He stopped everything. You can’t beat that," said Tomas Filippi, who scored two goals, as did Holik.
"I think this was the best game I played in my life," Mrazek said. "We felt incredible here. Nobody thought we would play in the quarter-finals here, but we played like a team and we can go far. I think the important thing was that we didn’t take any penalties in the last period and scored three goals."
Holik banged in a rebound after a fine rush from Jiri Sekac, and Tomas Filippi and Holik again added their second of the game to close out the scoring. Holik's came into an empty net.
The result sends the Czech Republic to the quarter-finals, and it gives Canada a bye to the semi-finals now as no other country in Group B can equal Canada's nine points except Finland or the Czechs (but not both), both of whom Canada has defeated.
It also presents a remarkable change in tenor to the much-anticipated Canada-U.S. game tomorrow night as the Americans will likely have to play in the relegation round (providing the Finns beat the Danes tonight). Otherwise, a Canada win would send the Americans to the Relegation Round with Denmark. This would certainly delight the fans in Edmonton, who continued their booing ways of the Americans today, as they have throughout the tournament.
"We had our chances to win the game," Team USA captain Jason Zucker said. "Hats off to them. They played well and their goalie was great. It’s a great tournament with the best (junior) goaltenders in the world."
"Of course it’s a disappointment. I want to win the gold medal just like every guy in our locker room. We gave it all tonight. Everybody wanted to win, but tonight it didn’t happen."
The Czechs were virtual miracle-workers getting out of the first period with the score tied, 1-1. After playing well for the first few minutes, the game changed when Petr Straka hammered Derek Forbort from behind into the glass at centre ice. Forbort fell awkwardly into the boards and was down on the ice for a couple of minutes nursing what looked to be a leg injury, and Straka was given a five-minute boarding major and game misconduct. Forbort did not return.
Three minutes later, J.T. Miller made a great pass on the rush to T.J. Tynan going hard to the net. Tynan merely had to put his stick down and re-direct the pass into the net for a 1-0 U.S. lead.
The Czechs persevered, though. They killed off another minor penalty a short time later and then equalized off a two-on-one rush. Tomas Filippi carried the puck into the U.S. end down the right wing, his off wing, and took a weak shot on Jack Campbell. The goalie seemed surprised by the poor shot and let the puck sit between his pads. Filippi poked at it, and in it went.
Then, late in the period, Petr Zamorsky took a double minor for high sticking which was divided almost equally between the end of the first and start of the second. After one period, the stats were amazing – Czechs had accrued 31 minutes in penalties to zero for the U.S., and a total of 8:58 short-handed time. And shots were 18-6 for the Americans, an imbalance offset by excellent goaltending from Mrazek, an early candidate for Best Goalie honours in 2012, to be sure.
The Czechs played a cautious and defensive second period, but the U.S. jumped into the lead again thanks to a penalty for too many men to the Czechs. Jason Zucker’s shot was turned aside by Mrazek, but the backside rebound came right to Bill Arnold who didn’t miss the open net.
The ever-resilient Czechs were not bowed. U.S. defenceman Jon Merrill made a careless pass up the middle which was picked off by Tomas Hertl in the high slot. He walked in alone on Campbell and roofed a beautiful backhander over the goalie’s glove to tie the game, 2-2.
The third period was cautious to the point that it seemed certain the next goal would be the winner. The U.S. looked twice to have that goal. Early on J.T. Miller ripped a shot off the crossbar that echoed throughout the building, and then midway through Jiri Riha hauled Josh Archibald down on a clear break resulting in a penalty shot.
As a chorus of boos rained down on the refs for making the call and on Archibald as he prepared to take the shot, the drama intensified. Mrazek stoned the American and did a double first pump as he had earlier in the tournament after stopping a Canadian penalty shot, and the game remained at 2-2. Then the Czechs started to score, and to win.
"I have great teammates in the dressing room, who said we could do it if we play hard and smart and don’t take penalties," Mrazek said. "And we did it."
The Czechs play Finland tomorrow, a game that will likely determine who will end up in second place in the group.
"I’m so happy, I can’t even describe my feelings right now," said Filippi. "It’s something special to beat the USA and go to the quarter-finals, but tomorrow we have a game against Finland and we want to beat Finland too."
In the matinee before, host Canada will play its North American rival United States.
"We’re going to give our best. We’re not going to change anything we do. We still want to beat them," Zucker said.
While the Czech can look forward to the quarter-finals, the Americans will likely have to play in the relegation round. "We got to win. There’s not much else we can do," said Zucker.
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)