Updated: Dec 31, 2018
Saturday night Team Canada took on the Czech Republic, continuing their escalation of competition as they get closer and closer to the medal rounds.
Heading into the match-up, the Czech's were 0-1-0-1 after beating Switzerland 2-1 in overtime and losing 2-1 to Russia on Friday. The Czech's boast a few star forwards, however the knock on them all tournament has been their lack of depth and team defense.
Canada struck early again, with captain Maxime Comtois getting on the board 6 minutes into the game. Owen Tippett and Markus Phillips picked up the assists on Comtois' 5th goal of the tournament, currently tied for the goal scoring lead.
The lead didn't last long for Canada though, as Ondrej Machala scored the equalizer just 40 seconds later. A nice pass from Jan Jenick, and in turn Mikey DiPietro didn't have much of a chance on the 2-on-1.
About 5 minutes later, Canada's powerplay capitalized, as Brett Leason deflected home a point shot from Ty Smith. Morgan Frost also picked up an assist on the play.
Take another 5 minutes off the clock, and Alexis Lafreniere got his first point of the tournament, sending a rocket of a one-timer past the Czech net-minder. Jack Studnicka and Josh Brook picked up the assists, and Canada stretched their lead to 3-1 before the end of the 1st frame.
Lafreniere was the recipient of some criticism from Head Coach Tim Hunter following the team's game against Denmark, and the 17 year-old responded well playing a fast and physical game, as well as adding this goal.
Not much action occurred in the 2nd, as neither team mustered up many high danger chances. A lot of back and forth neutral zone play, and not many shots to show for either side.
15 minutes into the 2nd, the alleged "13th forward" to start the tournament, MacKenzie Entwhistle, buried his 3rd goal in as many games. A strong shift lead to Entwhistle sniping one short side, with Joe Veleno and Jack Studnicka getting the apples on the play.
Halfway through the 3rd, Team Canada's 2nd powerplay unit was able to cash in again, as Nick Suzuki turned a fake shot into a gorgeous pass that split the seam and found Morgan Frost with a wide-open net backdoor. Ty Smith received his 2nd assist on the game as well, and Frost's marker tally brought him up to 7 points on the tournament, tying him with Habs prospect Ryan Poehling for the tournament lead.
The score ended 5-1 Canada, as they were able to carry their winning ways into the final game of the round robin against Russia on New Year's Eve.
Both Czech goalies saw action in the game, despite Canada only collecting 30 shots on goal. Mikey DiPietro was solid again for Canada though, gathering 23 saves in the victory.
Canada's powerplay coming to life was a strong sign, going 2-4 in the game, and hopefully they continue building chemistry heading into the medal rounds.
Maybe the most impressive thing for me was how well Canada neutralized the offensive stars Martin Necas, Martin Kaut, and Filip Zadina on the Czech team. Only a combined 6 shots, and one high danger scoring chance between the 3 stars. Team Canada will need to continue this strong defensive play, should they face the Swedes, Americans, or Finns in the medal round.
Ty Smith had a great game for the Canadians, as did Brett Leason. The 2 WHL stars each saw an increase in ice-time against the Czech's. Smith registered 2 assists and 3 shots on goal from the blue-line, while Leason put up a powerplay goal and was a force on the cycle for Team Canada.
Canada has today off, and will put all their focus on beating the Russian's on New Year's Eve. This will be their biggest test yet, although Russia has not been very impressive thus far, lacking the depth of scoring they normally bring to the tournament.