In a rough, bitter battle, Canada rallied from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to defeat feisty Slovakia 6-3 at Ufa Arena on Friday afternoon. Mark Scheifele got the winner near the end of the second period.Canada maintained its perfect record in Group B with its second straight regulation victory. Its all-time World Junior record against Slovakia now sits at eight wins and one tie. The Slovaks remain fourth in the group with one point.
Ryan Strome led the way with two goals for Canada. Morgan Rielly stepped up with a goal and two assists. Scheifele and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins notched a goal and an assist apiece, Ty Rattie chipped a single, and Xavier Ouellet chipped in two helpers.
"You’ve got to be happy with the way we bounced back," said Strome. "That’s the sign of a growing team."
Marko Dano had two goals and an assist for Slovakia, and Tomas Mikus added a goal and a helper.
Discipline remains a concern for Canada, which saw both J-C Lipon and Anthony Camara ejected with five-minute majors for dangerous bodychecks on Tomas Mikus and Patrik Luza respectively. Luza left the game on a stretcher midway through the second period, as Camara got a charging major.
"He’s in the hospital and they’re taking all the X-rays and everything," said Slovak head coach Ernest Bokros of Luza. "But it looks like he should be OK. He’s probably going to stay in the hospital the whole night. He probably has a concussion."
Canada played again without forward Boone Jenner, serving the second game of his three-game suspension for an illegal hit on Swedish defenceman Jesper Pettersson in pre-tournament action.
Canada’s Malcolm Subban won the goaltending duel with Slovakia’s Adam Nagy. Shots on goal favoured Canada 30-28.
Next up for Canada is the latest installment of its heated cross-border rivalry with the United States on Sunday.
Slovakia’s next opponent is Germany on Sunday.
"We have to get three points for sure," said Bokros of Slovakia's next game. "We’ve been playing well in this tournament, and we have two good games behind us. But we need the points."
Canada got off to a disjointed start. The Slovaks drew first blood at 2:53 when Dano got position at the edge of Subban’s crease and backhanded home the rebound from a Matus Matis shot.
It got worse for Canada. A forechecking J-C Lipon brought his arms up and made contact with Mikus’s head behind the Slovak net, and thus the Canadian forward was banished with a five-minute major for checking to the head at 13:39.
Slovakia went up 2-0 with 4:32 left in the period. Moving toward the slot, Mikus took a slick feed from behind the goal line from Martin Reway and beat Subban high stick side from the hash marks.
At 2:26 of the second period, the Canadians cut the deficit to 2-1. Strome circled off the boards to Nagy’s right, cruised deep into the slot, and zinged a perfect shot inside the post past the partially screened netminder.
When Strome hauled down Slovakia’s Andrej Bires in the neutral zone at 9:49 of the second, some three minutes after Camara had been banished, the Slovaks got an extended 5-on-3 man advantage. Dano capped off some savvy puck movement with a bad-angle one-timer that beat Subban for a 3-1 lead at 10:35.
But the Slovaks showed poor discipline of their own as Dano and Richard Buri took consecutive minors, giving Canada a 5-on-3. Rielly promptly brought Canada within one goal with a slapper that tipped off Rapac’s leg and beat Nagy high at 11:42 of the second.
"When Anthony Camara had his hit, I think it kind of was a TSN Turning Point, if you will," Rielly said. "After that, I think our guys got going."
Emotions continued to run high as Reway laid a neutral zone cross-check on Scheifele in retaliation for a bodycheck on a Slovak teammate.
With 4:42 left in the middle frame, Canada tied it up at 3-3 on the power play. Ouellet sent a perfect cross-ice pass from the blue line to Nagy’s right post, where Rattie banged it in and celebrated. The momentum now shifted to Canada.
"I’m satisfied with our play 5-on-5 throughout the whole game, but basically, we lost the game on the power play," said Bokros.
Canada jumped into a 4-3 lead at 19:01 as Ouellet’s fluttering shot from the left point was tipped in by Scheifele. The red-clad Canadian cheering section among the crowd of 2,818 exploded.
Nugent-Hopkins, an early candidate for the tournament scoring crown, gave Canada a two-goal cushion at 3:33 of the third period. He showcased his soft hands as he took a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and beat Nagy with an in-tight backhand.
Strome put Canada up 6-3 at 7:05 of the third when he took a long pass at the Slovak blue line and raced in alone to put a forehand deke home.
"It was tough, but a lot of depth players stood up tonight and played bigger minutes," said Rattie of Canada's effort. "It was a character win, an awesome team win."
The Slovaks got a couple of late power plays, but couldn't get anything going. It was a tough defeat to take after two heartfelt efforts, including the tournament-opening 3-2 overtime loss to host Russia.
"We struggled really hard," said Mikus. "We scored two fast goals, and we should have played defence better after that. But there were stupid penalties and we paid the [price]. I hope the next game will be better and we’ll win finally."
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)