For the second year in a row, Team Canada captured gold at the World Juniors thanks to an overtime goal. This year, it was Arizona Coyotes prospect Dylan Guenther who scored 6:22 into extra time to capture Canada’s 20th gold medal at the tournament. Here are five takeaways from the game.
Guenther’s Golden Game
When it was announced Guenther would be part of Team Canada this year, the expectation was he was going to score goals and be a leader on this team. Well, that is exactly what he did, scoring seven goals in the tournament, which included two in the gold medal game. He had a hand in all three of Canada’s goals recording an assist on Shane Wright’s 2-0 tally and was named Canada’s player of the game for his efforts.
While Guenther dominated on the power play, in the end, the only goal that matters was the one he scored at even strength. Driving the net, he was able to collect a perfect cross-crease pass from Joshua Roy to beat Tomáš Suchánek for the tournament winner. The Arizona Coyotes have a special player here who looks ready to dominate the NHL after his performance at the 2023 World Juniors.
Birthday Boy Leads Canada To Victory
On his 19th birthday, Wright scored a crucial goal and led Canada to victory. After not recording a point in the quarter-finals or semi-finals, Captain Canada had a monster game winning over 50% of his faceoffs and recording five shots on goal in 21:28 of ice time. He now joins an exclusive list of players to captain Canada to gold at the World Juniors, which includes Curtis Lazar, Kris Letang and Mason McTavish.
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It has been a tough few months for Wright leading up to the tournament, so watching him deliver when Canada needed him most was a great sight. From being stuck in the Seattle Kraken press box to all the rumours surrounding him being traded at the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) level, he can now put everything aside for one night at least and celebrate being a champion. He faced a ton of pressure wearing the “C” for Canada at this tournament, but faced it head-on and can now celebrate his birthday with a gold medal around his neck.
54 Seconds To Forget
Canada was on its way to winning in regulation, but a disastrous 54-second span almost cost them gold. With 7:30 left in the third, Jiri Kulich scored Czechia’s first goal of the game to make the score 1-0, followed by Jakob Kos scoring with 6:36 left in the game. Czechia also almost scored in the dying seconds, but thanks to some heroics by Thomas Milic, Canada was able to avoid a third-period collapse.
Throughout the tournament, Canada had issues clearing the puck out of their zone, and that is exactly what led to both goals for Czechia. First, it was Olen Zellweger who couldn’t get the puck out off the boards, which led to the first goal, followed by a poor clearance from Brandt Clarke, which led to the tying goal. While Canada won the game in the end, their defensive lapses were critical and almost cost them the gold medal.
Canada’s Third Line Sets The Tone Physically
They didn’t record a point in the game, but the third line of Zach Dean, Nathan Gaucher and Zack Ostapchuk was fantastic throughout the game. All three play a similar physical style which made life incredibly difficult for Czechia. They were also strong in the faceoff dot as the trio combined to go 12 for 19 during the game.
While these three only combined for 10 points through the seven games, they were vital to Canada’s success through the quarter-finals, semi-finals and gold medal game. Whether it was on the penalty kill or playing matchup minutes, they stepped up to the challenge and added another dimension to Team Canada. While their play may be glossed over because they were not point producers, they deserve a ton of credit for the way they played throughout the tournament.
Canada Gets Its Revenge
For Canada, winning the gold was great, but beating Czechia to do it was the cherry on top. The reason is simple; they wanted revenge after being embarrassed by them during the opening game of the tournament. While this game was much closer than the 5-2 defeat they took on Boxing Day, Canada achieved their goal and walked away with the gold medal.
While Czechia was unable to take home gold, their tournament was nothing short of spectacular. Whether it was Suchánek’s unreal performance, David Jiříček dominating the blue line, or Kulich finishing tied for second in the tournament with seven goals, Czechia showed why they are an up-and-coming powerhouse in the hockey world. Congratulations to Team Czechia on a fantastic performance and winning their first medal at the World Juniors since 2005.
Golden Once Again
The Canadians got better as the World Juniors went on and have now captured back-to-back gold medals for the first time in 14 years. While at times it wasn’t pretty, this group left it all out on the ice and will now return to their junior teams as champions. They defended home soil in a tournament that will be remembered for a historic performance by Connor Bedard, “Heave Away” by The Fables being played 42 times, and, of course, a gold medal for Canada.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.