EP Rinkside's 3 Stars from Day 1 of the 2023 World Juniors
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – The sold-out crowd at the Scotiabank Centre expected the host Canadians to ride an offensive explosion past Czechia. They are the favourites at this year's World Juniors, after all.
Instead, they watched their team get shut down for the better part of two periods, and now Canada gets to contend with the tidal wave of existential doubts that traditionally follow a preliminary round loss.
Not that they did themselves any favours. The narratives write themselves: calamitous goaltending, the two first-period attempts at the “Michigan” lacrosse moves, the lapses in defensive coverage, the discipline issues, and even, somehow, faceoffs. It's a perfect storm.
The most pressing of those items is the state of the Canadian crease. Their decision to run with Ben Gaudreau as a starter despite his .868 save percentage in the OHL this season drew its fair share of scrutiny, but even the doubters wouldn’t have expected five goals against in the team's first 30 minutes of game time.
At the other end, undrafted goaltender Tomáš Suchánek was, to quote Czech forward Jaroslav Chmelař, “a god.” He stopped 36 of 38 shots, blanking Canada for the better part of the last two periods and warding off some high-quality chances on the power play. When a team loses the goaltending battle by this much, they don’t usually win. After the game, Canadian star Connor Bedard was adamant that they “ran into a really hot goalie” and “weren’t terrible.”
But that’s not to absolve the Canadian skaters entirely. While they were able to exert some pressure late in the second period and into the third at 5-on-5, they were for the most part unable to jar the Czech defence away from the shooting lanes and relied far too much on individual rushes by Bedard. Bedard’s magic was on display but the lack of help he got in carrying the puck and creating offence forced him to take a lot of risks to get the team going. Captain Shane Wright was Canada’s player of the game with a goal and an assist, but they will need more creativity from him.
Czechia's excellence tonight started in the crease and grew out from there. David Jiříček, fresh from three days of travel chaos, played with authority and confidence, leading a structured blueline that both frustrated Canada’s forwards and led the way offensively. All three of the Davids on the Czech blue line – Jiříček, Špaček, and Moravec – picked up primary points in the win.
This win is Czechia's first in regulation over Canada in the history of the tournament, and a testament to how much confidence they gained from their surprise defeat of Team USA in the summer World Juniors quarterfinals. They mean business.
For the Canadians, it’s early adversity that may test the team’s ability to tune out the noise and narratives and build momentum through the remaining group stage games.
The Daily Scoreboard
Switzerland 3 - 2 Finland (OT)
Sweden 11 - 0 Austria
United States 5 - 2 Latvia
Czechia 5 - 2 Canada
1. Lian Bichsel, D, Switzerland (Dallas Stars)
You lead your team to a stunning 3-2 overtime win over Finland, and that's a guarantee for the top spot in the EP Rinkside 3 Stars. Bichsel was everything for Switzerland, anchoring their top pair, shutting down Finland's top line, playing on both first-unit special teams, and even picking up the lone assist on Attilio Biasca's overtime winner.
Just look at the way the Stars first-rounder drives an attacking Joakim Kemell to the outside on this sequence; the way Bichsel matches his speed, guides him to the perimeter with his stick and eventually uses a well-timed defensive stick to strip him of the puck entirely. Before you know it, the Swiss defenceman is charging up-ice, and only moments later, he's setting up the overtime winner after repelling Finish defencemen in the corner for the puck.
We tried to tell you that he was the Swiss X-Factor at this tournament, and now you understand why. When Bichsel is at his best, he has the capacity to take over hockey games. If you tuned in for Switzerland's 3-2 overtime win against Finland, you saw just that.
2. Stanislav Svozil, D, Czechia (Columbus Blue Jackets)
This is perhaps the best game that our scouting staff has ever seen Svozil play. Certainly, the EP Rinkside Slack was buzzing with praise for the Czech blueliner's performance – there's a little peak behind the curtains for you.
Though Svozil and David Špaček showed up on the roster sheet as the second pair, they wound up leading the Czech blue line in ice time by a pretty substantial margin. By the time the final horn sounded on Czechia's emphatic 5-2 win over Canada, Svozil had amassed two points (a goal and an assist), a plus-one rating, and sent three shots on goals.
“We controlled the game, we controlled offence, defence, everything," Svozil told reporters after the game. “I chirped [Connor Bedard] every shift."
Usually, we'd meet that sort of forceful statement with some skepticism when the player putting it forward was on the wrong end of a 38-27 shot differential, but I don't think it's much of a stretch in this case. They largely kept Canada's top two lines to the outside, limiting them to shots that bounced off of shin pads or clean looks that Czech goaltender Tomáš Suchánek (who had an assist in this game) could easily handle.
This Czech team, meanwhile, had no difficulty attacking through the neutral zone with speed or beating Canada with east-west passing. Svozil set up Špaček's goal on one such play – the rare double-defencemen activation – and then picked up a goal of his own later in the game.
🇨🇿 Czechia 🇨🇿 scores their third straight goal, with Stanislav Svozil (#CBJ) sniping one past the Canadian goaltender to give his country the 3-1 lead.— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) December 27, 2022
David Špaček (#MnWild) and Eduard Šalé (#2023NHLDraft) the assists on the play.
🎥: @TSN_Sports pic.twitter.com/ZkRL0Hj1Ut
3. Isak Rosén, RW, Sweden (Buffalo Sabres)
On a Swedish team that had little to no difficulty finding the back of the net against Austria, it was Rosén that led the charge, scoring twice, adding an assist, and sending five shots on goal.
"It's really important. The first three games here I wasn't shooting that much, so in the last game, I was just shooting everything, and I kind of had the same mindset today," Rosén said of his performance. "I'm trying to shoot as much as I can because I have a good shot – why not use it?"
Why not use it, indeed? Rosén's acquitted himself exceptionally well in his AHL rookie season with the Rochester Americans, but we've mostly seen the first-round pick excel as a playmaker, striking a more deferential posture than we're accustomed to seeing at these tournaments. It's good to see that he's still got his fastball – that he can still take a game over with his handling skill and his shot.
“He’s speedy and a great goal scorer so I’m not surprised about it,” Leo Carlsson said of Rosén's performance. “He’s an unbelievable player.”
Well, you're not the only one who isn't surprised.
Let's give it up for upsets:
There are a lot of reasons why this tournament is our favourite part of the hockey calendar, but one of the most important ones is that anything can happen. There's always at least one upstart team with designs on playing the role of spoiler, taking to the underdog label with enthusiasm that more than makes up for the talent deficit when they're facing the Canadas or Swedens or Finlands or Americas of the tournament.
We're one day into the 2023 World Juniors, and we've already seen two massive upsets: Switzerland winning 3-2 in overtime over Finland and Czechia handily dispatching the Canadians on home soil to the tune of a 5-2 final. It doesn't get much better than that.
Highlight of the day:
You've gotta hand it to the Latvians. They may not have won today, but they gave Team USA all they could handle in their 5-2 loss. That they kept the goal differential to a respectable minus-three against the group's top opponent could prove critically important for staving off relegation or even making a charge into the quarterfinals.
We've got ourselves a tie game! Anrī Ravinskis (#2023NHLDraft) finishes off the tic-tac-toe passing play to tie the game at 1-1 for 🇱🇻 Latvia 🇱🇻.— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) December 26, 2022
Rainers Rullers (2023) the assist on the play.
🎥: @TSN_Sports pic.twitter.com/JAA0pqvxc1
Your World Juniors stats for the day: