Canada nearly upset by Czechs at U18s

By Holly Gunning

Coming off of wins over Germany and Switzerland by scores of 11-2 and 8-1, Canada got caught looking past the winless Czechs to the next game against Sweden.

"That could have been something that happened this game — to a degree," Team Canada coach Mike Johnston conceded, "But the Czechs are a good team."

Regardless the reason, Canada came out flat, while the speedy Czechs came out looking sharp. They went up 1-0 in the first, and built on their lead in the second, going up 3-0. Leaving men alone near the net, allowing passes through the middle, and giving up breakaways all led to goals against.

"They really took it to us the first two periods," Canada captain Ryan O’Reilly said. "At the intermission we kind of regrouped and said ‘we can do this, let’s go out there and get a goal.’ Got the first goal and they started coming."

Johnston was loudly vocal to his team during the second intermission. 

"He said sometimes you have to face adversity and this is one of those times," O’Reilly said.  "Everyone has to step up and we have to do this."

Asked to confirm that there was a lot of yelling, O’Reilly laughed and said "You could say so I guess, yeah."

But the coach was not alone in his words.

"Every guy was saying positive stuff, everyone was ready to go and that’s why we came together," O’Reilly said. "Everyone said ‘now’s the time to turn it up’ and made it happen.

"We knew we could beat these guys, we’ve done it before at previous tournaments.  We said to be patient. We just had to regroup."

Johnston described the contents of his intermission message.

"It was mainly our power play," he said. "We had a power play to start the third and we talked a lot about that, how we had to get that going. The second thing was I thought we had to get our legs going. We weren’t skating for the first two periods. We knew the first goal would give us some energy."

The Canadians didn’t score on their 5-on-3, but did score 5-on-4. Their next goal came within a minute and the roll was on. They went on to win 4-3 in overtime, with Brett Connolly scoring the game winner 1:23 into OT, and earning Canadian player of the game honors.

The Czechs themselves were as surprised as anyone that they had built up a 3-0 lead against Canada.

"We weren’t feeling really good after yesterday’s game against the Germans because we lost," Tomas Rachunek said. "So if someone told us we’d play a good game aginst Canada, we’d be happy. We were supposed to win this game because we were in the lead 3-0, but we got one point so we’re pretty happy."

The Czechs had all the motivation that Canada didn’t, because of the losses they had suffered.  The relegation rounds were not, and are not, out of the question for the team.

O’Reilly gave his goaltender Michael Zador high marks.

"He played great, he’s been great every game so far," O’Reilly said. "He really keeps us in there. The first two periods we didn’t give him much help back there and he really came up big for us in the last period."

The game against Sweden on Tuesday is the last before the medal rounds. Sweden has nine points to Canada’s eight, so it’s a must-win for Canada if they want the top seed in Group A and the bye.

"Sweden has a lot of speed, they’re dangerous with the guys crossing and things like that," Johnston said. " We have to be ready for how they play 5on-5 and how they play on special teams as well."

"It’s going to be just as fast as tonight," O’Reilly said. "As long as we have a good first period, we’ll be fine after that. We know they’re a fast, talented team. We just have to play our game, the Canadian style."