LAPPEENRANTA – The Czech Republic advances to the 2014 IIHF U18 World Championship gold medal game for the first time ever, thanks to a 4-3 overtime win over Canada.
David Kase was the overtime hero for the Czechs, stealing the puck from Matt Barzal in the Canadian zone and lofting it past goaltender Mason McDonald and into the net for the winning goal.
"I read the play of the defenceman and was able to anticipate where he was going to go with the puck," said Kase. "Luckily I got the puck and saw the goalie go down so I chipped it over and it went in."
"I saw the puck go in, unbelievable feeling and the biggest goal of my life."
It looked like a comeback win was in the works for the Canadians as the defending U18 world champions came into the third period down 3-1. An early goal got them back into the game, coming at 14:58 with a shot from the point from defenceman Joseph Hicketts.
Barzal then took the puck in to the Czech zone and threw it on net with a backhand shot. But goaltender Vitek Vanecek struggled to corral it, which allowed Audette to get in front of the net and force it through to tie the game up with less than eight minutes to go.
In the overtime period Czech forward David Pastrnak had a great chance to end it but was stopped point blank by goaltender Mason McDonald. Pastrnak then took a penalty for tripping and spent two nervous minutes in the box.
"I wanted to kill myself then," said Pastrnak. "But I believed in the guys and they did a great job not giving anything up and I have to give a big thank you to them."
Kase redeemed him with the OT goal minutes later to send the Czechs into the final, where they will face the United States for gold.
"They played an excellent game," said Canada head coach Kevin Dineen. "They have some highly skilled players and it was a good matchup. I was disappointed for the players given how hard they played in the final thirty minutes, they put a lot of sweat into that and it's a hard outcome."
The Czechs jumped on the Canadians early with a goal 1:15 into the game. Czech leading scorer Jakub Vrana took a shot from near the boards, and Canada’s goaltender Mason Mcdonald gave up a big rebound right onto stick of Michael Spacek.
Spacek nearly had another in the second as his shot from the high slot rang off the crossbar. But the Czechs still went up 2-0 a few minutes later, after Canadian goaltender Mason McDonald let in a tough goal scored by Vrana from a seemingly harmless shot from the outside edge of the left circle near the boards.
Then at the seven-minute mark the Czechs won the puck battle in the neutral zone, and Radek Vesely got the puck into the Canadian zone. The forward got a shot off on McDonald who gave him back the rebound, allowing Vesely to make a cross-crease pass to an open Jiri Smejfal on the other side of the net giving the Czechs a commanding 3-0 lead going into the second intermission.
The third goal galvanized the Canadians into cutting the lead to 3-1 on the power play just over thirty seconds later. On a three-on-one John Quenneville, Daniel Audette, and Matt Barzal combined for a nice passing play that ended in the back of the net from Barzal’s stick. Canada nearly had another off a scrum in front of the net late in the frame but couldn’t get the puck to cross the goal line.
But despite playing a great game, Barzal's one mistake in overtime was a killer, and the difference between Canada playing for bronze instead of defending its gold medal. As for the Czech Republic, win or lose tomorrow the country can be proud that a group of relative unknowns managed to go further at this U18 World Championship than any Czech team has before.
"Before we got here we said that this was going to be the most important ten days of our lives," said Czech head coach Jakub Petr. "These guys were mentioning big players that played for our country before in this tournament, but none of them ever played in a final. It's been the greatest experience of my coaching career and the best experience of my life."
“It was our goal to get a medal,” said a grinning Kase after the game. “Now we’ve made it all the way to the final, so we might as well win the whole thing.”