Canada blanks Czechs 3-0, reaches semifinals of world junior hockey championship

·4 min read

EDMONTON — Quarterfinals in international hockey tournaments are tense affairs. A win means playing for a medal and a loss means not.

Canadian goaltender Devon Levi's big-picture perspective helped him post a 29-save shutout in a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic on Saturday.

"I'm just taking every moment and savouring it because I know this is my last world juniors," Levi said. "I'm going to be able to look back on this for the rest of my life.

"I'm just trying to enjoy it as much as I can and I think that really takes the pressure off."

Canada takes on Russia and the United States faces Finland in Monday's semifinals. The gold and bronze-medal games are Tuesday.

Dylan Cozens had a goal and an assist Saturday against a tenacious Czech side.

Connor McMichael scored into an empty net and defenceman Bowen Byram also scored at Rogers Place.

Russia edged Germany 2-1, Finland downed Sweden 3-2 and the U.S. defeated Slovakia 5-2 in Saturday's other quarterfinals.

Canada was the lone team to go undefeated in the preliminary round at 4-0 to top Pool A. The Czech Republic (2-2) ranked fourth in Pool B.

Nick Malik, who spend part of last season with the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, stopped 22 shots in the loss.

Canada led 2-0 after the opening period on goals from co-captains Cozens and Byram.

The defending champions didn't dominate puck possession like they did in a 4-1 win over Finland to cap the round robin, however.

The Czechs battled hard along the boards for the puck to make Canada chase them, blocked shots and often clogged the neutral zone to force the Canadians to dump and chase.

"It's a plus for me the way the Czechs played us, the way we played and the way we had to dig in and figure it out," Canadian head coach Andre Tourigny said. "I think that's a good thing."

Canada was outshot for the first time in the tournament and really leaned on the 19-year-old Levi from Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que.

Facing a dozen shots in the opening period Saturday was the most rubber he'd faced in a single period.

"It was super fun," Levi said. "To be busy in the first period really keeps you in the game.

"The past games, it was a bit harder to stay focused. I found in this game it was easy to have fun and just go out and play for sure."

Tourigny gave a lot of minutes to the top defensive pairing of Byram and Jamie Drysdale — almost 25 and over 23 respectively — to contain the Czechs and shrink their chances of a comeback.

Czech coach Karel Mlejnek pulled Malik for an extra attacker with five and a half minutes to play in regulation, but McMichael scored into an empty net at 17:11.

"The game was influenced by the first period where we allowed two quick goals, which obviously put us on a back foot," Mlejnek said. "We kept fighting. We were trying to keep it as close as possible.

""We wouldn't say we're a totally defensive team. We don't have a system where we don't want to score goals, but Canada played really well and they didn't let us (have) those chances that we needed.'

With a hard-working backcheck, Canada's Peyton Krebs prevented an odd-man Czech chance off a turnover late in a scoreless second period.

"I think he was one of our best players if not our best forward," Tourigny said.

Neither team scored on its one power-play chance but seconds after Adam Raska's interference penalty expired, Byram squeezed a shot under Malik's right armpit at 11:39 of the first period.

Cozens scored Canada's first goal for the second time in as many games.

McMichael flipped the puck up ice to Cozens on a breakaway. The Buffalo Sabres prospect shovelled the puck between Malik's pads at 8:22.

Byram and Cozens are alternating the captaincy in the absence of injured Kirby Dach. Cozens has a team-leading seven goals and six assists in five games.

With 22 combined points from both the 2020 and 2021 world junior tournaments, Cozens ranks sixth all-time for Canada ahead of John Tavares (20) and behind Jason Allison (24).

Canada was minus forward Alex Newhook, who injured his shoulder in the Finland game.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 2, 2021.

The Canadian Press