The semifinals featured two enticing matchups, with the rematch between Czechia and Sweden and the Canadians and Americans renewing their rivalry with an appearance in the gold medal game on the line.
Czechia won a dramatic contest in overtime, while Canada came back from a two-goal deficit 10 minutes into the game to score six unanswered goals.
Czechia and Canada will face off in a rematch of Boxing Day for the gold medal tomorrow evening after Sweden and USA duke it out for the bronze.
The only loss Czechia suffered in the group stage was against the Swedes. Coming into the semifinal, they looked to avenge that loss.
The first period was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams generating scoring chances. The flashes of skill being put on display were matched at each end of the ice by the play of the opposing goaltenders. Carl Lindbom and Thomas Suchanek have been two of the tournament’s best in net, and they showed just why in the first period. They both made a couple of nice saves as teams traded chances.
The Swedes opened the scoring in the second period as the Swedish forecheck grabbed the puck and worked it around, with Ludvig Jansson ripping a one-time blast on net, glancing off Suchacek’s shoulder and into the net. Jansson continued to haunt the Czechs as he had two goals, including the game-winner in overtime in the first meeting between the two squads.
The Czech physicality got the best of them shortly after as Petr Hauser took a hooking penalty as he took a Swede down behind the Swedish net. Off the faceoff, Matyas Sapovaliv attempted to send the puck down the ice in a clearing attempt and took a stick in the face in the process. The only problem was that the puck went over the glass, and Sapovaliv went to the box to give Sweden two full minutes with a two-man advantage. Thankfully for Czechia, they killed both off and got back on the attack, but they would end the second period down 1-0.
The third period was all Czechia. Outshooting the Swedes 14-3, the Czech squad was piling it on. They had chance after chance, wearing them down. The Swedes’ few chances wound up being dangerous.
But the Czechs pushed and finally got the break they needed. With time winding down, Swedish defenseman Elias Pettersson iced the puck, giving Czechia a faceoff in the offensive zone and the chance to put an extra attacker out.
With possession of the puck in the offensive zone, an extra attacker, and desperate times, the Czechs finally got a goal. David Jiricek unleashed a bomb past Carl Lindbom and tied the game with under a minute to go. Czechia finally cracked Lindbom on their 29th shot. The celebration was pure joy.
Off to overtime again for the Czechs and Swedes. With more open ice provided by 3-on-3 overtime and space to use their speed, Sweden got back into the game with many great chances in the extra frame. Thomas Suchanek had to be stellar as the Swedes were buzzing and pressuring Czechia at will.
Then, with under a minute to play, Jiri Kulich put the team – and a Swedish defender – on his back, drove the net and put an end to the extra frame. The Buffalo Sabres prospect put the Czechs into the gold medal game for the first time since 2001 and guarantees their best finish since they won bronze in 2005.
Czechia has been the best and most consistent team at the World Junior Championship. They deserve to play for the title.
Canada Beats the Americans in a Thriller
The rivalry renewed, and it didn’t disappoint. Canada and the United States played a highly entertaining game again, with Canada coming out on top.
But the Americans came out hot. Logan Cooley opened the scoring just 1:19 into the game, burying a rebound while tied up by two Canadians in the slot. The Arizona Coyotes’ second overall pick in last year’s draft and the world juniors’ second-leading scorer put the Americans up early.
The Americans extended their lead on a beautiful passing play, with Kenny Connors finishing to give them a two-goal lead halfway through the first.
The Canadians were in trouble and needed someone to step up. Who else but Connor Bedard?
Ethan Del Mastro pinched in off the faceoff, pushing the puck down the wall, toward the corner, before finding Bedard parked out front. Bedard deflected it in, and the Canadians were on the board. The crowd was back into the game. Despite being outplayed in the first period, the Canadians were only down by one goal.
Canada took over in the second. Logan Stankoven scored within the first minute. Brandt Clarke attacked the net and took a shot, creating a rebound. Josh Roy and Stankoven were around the net, and Roy fed Stankoven on the back door. Canada tied the game.
That’s when Thomas Milic began making massive save after massive save. Just when you thought the Americans had begun taking the momentum back, Adam Fantilli broke out of the offensive zone, sent a pass across the ice and then attacked the net front. Zach Dean sent a pass to Fantilli, who elevated from in tight and gave Canada the lead. Canada’s other 2023 NHL draft-eligible player was having himself a game.
The Americans would score soon after, as Jackson Blake buried a loose puck in tight, spinning and firing it into the cage. He was slightly in the crease, bumping Milic just enough to prevent him from making the save. Olen Zellweger did give him a bit of a shove, but Canada decided to challenge the goal anyways.
It was a good thing they did. The referees overturned the goal. The crowd went wild.
Canada began to push back, taking hold of the game, engaging physically, and pushing the American defenders around. Josh Roy would score before the period was up to give the Canadians a 4-2 lead.
The Americans came out in the third period with bellies full of fire, scoring 38 seconds into the frame. Rutger McGroarty poked the puck from under Milic’s pad and went wild in celebration.
But yet again, the Canadians would challenge, and yet again, the goal would be overturned. This one was more clear-cut. The Americans were fired up, though.
Shortly after the McGroarty non-goal, Milic had to deal with an American power play, and he was doing everything he could to prevent the U.S. from scoring. He faced nine shots in the first five minutes of the third and stood tall.
Then, the Canadians’ fourth line, led by Fantilli, was back on the ice for their first shift in quite some time. Their fresh legs were all over the Americans on the forecheck, turning the puck over and hunting it down in the offensive zone. After Fantilli got a pass from Owen Beck, he fired it on net. Augustine made a great save, but the rebound bounced out to Brandt Clarke in the slot. Clarke made no mistake, burying it to give Canada a three-goal lead with about 10 minutes to play.
With a late penalty to the Canadians, the Americans pulled the goalie with about three minutes to go. Josh Roy stripped Luke Hughes of the puck and scored the empty-netter to seal the game.
Canada moves on to face Czechia in the final. USA suffers a tough loss and will play Sweden for the bronze.
1st Star: Thomas Milic, G, Canada
Even though he was playing well earlier in the tournament, Milic has been the second-best goalie in almost every game the Canadians have played. It’s not as if he’s cost the Canadians any games, but he hasn’t stolen a game until now.
Milic needed to stand out as the clear-cut best netminder in the game, as Trey Augustine had performed well to this point. The Americans were his best competition. The Canadian netminder made the easy saves, the acrobatic saves, the desperation saves and everything in between. Canada wouldn’t have won had it not been for Milic.
2nd Star: Jiri Kulich, LW, Czechia
The Czech squad needed someone to come up and be the hero as they looked to avenge their overtime loss to the same Swedes in the group stage. Kulich did that. Not only did Kulich score the overtime winner on an outstanding play driving the net, but he was among Czechia’s most impressive players throughout the world juniors. The Sabres prospect is tied for the team lead in scoring and is the big reason the top-seeded Czech squad is playing for the gold.
3rd Star: Josh Roy, LW, Canada
This tournament’s been the Connor Bedard show for much of it, but Roy and Stankoven have been riding shotgun throughout. Roy had an impressive game in the semifinal. He assisted on Canada’s first two goals, scored the insurance goal and an empty-netter to cap his four-point night. He was all over the ice, penalty-killing, playing hard in all three zones and being rewarded on the scoresheet. Had Milic not stood on his head, Roy would have been the easy choice as Canada’s hero.