2023 U18 World Hockey Championships

EP Rinkside's 3 Stars from Day 3 of the 2023 U18 World Hockey Championship

BASEL & PORRENTRUY, Switzerland – Czechia had their backs up against the wall coming into this game after a hard-fought shootout loss against Slovakia in their tournament opener. A loss to Germany and their playoff hopes were all but gone.

"We knew we had to have at least four points out of these two games. It was tough for us against Slovakia; we spent a lot of time in the penalty box," Czechia head coach Jakub Petr said after the game. "We had the day off yesterday and had a meeting – the way we played against Slovakia wasn't how we have played this season. It was kid hockey."

They grew up in time for today's game. Czechia was in total control from puck drop, forcing the Germans to take a penalty only 16 seconds into the game. Not long after, Adam Židlický made them pay, finding twine right as the power play expired. That was a lead that they never relinquished.

Czechia got more and more comfortable as the first period went on, and Germany more out of their depth. When Eduard Sale scored on the penalty kill at the halfway mark in the opening frame, you knew it was over; when he scored only a handful of minutes later on a penalty shot, that was the exclamation mark on their win.

They didn't take their foot off the gas, though. Captain Jakub Dvořák scored 36 seconds into the middle frame to make it a 4-0 game.

"The response from the team, how they stuck with the game plan was nice," Petr said. "The first 40 minutes were okay."

The full 60 minutes? That read Czechia 7, and Germany 1. You can't win the game more thoroughly than that.

Next up, Czechia prepares for a match with the first-place team in Group A, Sweden.

"They are one of the big favourites of this tournament. They have had a huge improvement over this season," Petr said. "We have played them four times and only won once. We know about them, but it's gonna be a different story tomorrow."

1. Gabriel Perreault, RW, USA (2023 NHL Draft)

Was there ever any doubt? It's Gabe Perreault as the day's first star, with a bullet. You score five points (three goals, two assists) en route to breaking Auston Matthews's record for most points in a season with the program, and that'll do it.

“It's pretty crazy. It's not something I thought I was going to be able to do," Perreault said of breaking the record. "Those are the guys you look up to. It's a really special moment, for sure.”

“We were aware. It’s a record that I think is pretty well-known,” USA head coach Dan Muse said after the game. “There’s a lot of different records at the NTDP and with USA Hockey in this age group, and this is a big one. We knew he was pretty close…With Gabe too, he’s done a great job of just continuing to play. It’s obviously a big record, but I don’t think – just seeing how he’s gone about his day-to-day – you’d ever know it was something that’s on his mind at all. He just went out there and played. Happy for him.”

It was fitting that Perreault broke the record in such decisive fashion, driving an American first line that, in many scout's eyes, has had Will Smith or Ryan Leonard at the wheel for much of this season.

“His offensive IQ is through the roof. The way he sees the ice, the way he can create space for himself, for others – it’s at a really high level,” Muse said after the game. “You combine that with the skill set that he has, and obviously it’s led to a lot of points. You see him, and even tonight when the score is that we’re up by a couple of goals, and he’s still tracking back, he’s still being detailed, he’s still doing those things. And he creates offence that way, too.”

2. Cole Eiserman, RW, USA (2024 NHL Draft)

The tournament leader in goals? Through three days, it's 2024 draft-eligible skater Cole Eiserman. He's up to five goals through two games in Basel, almost all of them wrist shots with power and precision above and beyond nearly anyone I've ever scouted live.

So, I asked him: Why is your shot so good? The answer? A bit of bashful gratitude before offering some insight into the work that's gone into that release.

"I don't know, I've just done it from a young age, shooting pucks every day. It's all I kind of do really, to be honest – shoot pucks and have fun with it," Eiserman said.

“I don't really have a big shooting area,” he said of his shooting station at home. “So it takes a little time to pick up the pucks. I spend a little bit of time out there. But it works, and it helps my shot.”

What's really stood out so far is how effortless Eiserman's shot is. He collects the puck, and it's off of his stick in an instant. He can get that wrist shot off on the rush without breaking stride. It's really advanced stuff for a player this age.

“He’s a guy who can score in a lot of different ways,” Muse said. “He can score from distance. He can score in tight. I thought you saw some different examples of it here. He’s got, I think, a unique release. I think it catches everybody off guard sometimes. He does a good job of getting himself open. It’s not by accident that a guy like that is able to get into that many scoring opportunities on a regular basis. That’s a little bit of a skill, too.”

“It's been huge. He's scoring lots of goals and bringing a lot of possession for us,” Perreault said. “As you can see, he's a really good player, and he's helped us a ton so far. His release is pretty lethal. I think he can get it off of the stick really quick, which sometimes catches the goalie off guard a little bit.”

3. Eduard Šalé, LW, Czechia (2023)

Šalé's two goals in the first period sealed the win for Czechia, first finding twine with a shorthanded breakaway goal and then picking up another on a penalty shot.

His slick hands had the goalie swimming, leaving him with a wide-open net and an easy goal to score with his backhand.

Šalé now has three goals in the tournament, good for second among all skaters. 

“His goals helped today. He was good on the defensive side as well. That’s what I love about him,” Petr said after the game. “We are talking about Eduard as a scoring guy, but he has improved on the defensive side as well. He is smart, and you gotta be smart on the defensive side.”

How would he describe his elite talent as a player?

“He’s smart, he can go on 1-on-1 situations, he is a scorer. He’s always calm when he gets a good shot.”

This isn't Šalé's first rodeo. He scored nine points in six games in his country's colours at last year's U18s in Landshut and Kaufbeuren, Germany. He was also a part of the Czech World Juniors team a couple of months ago, where he picked up six points in seven contests.

This time, though, he's the one driving the bus. Czechia will go as far as he takes them in this tournament. That much is clear.

“As I mentioned in the summer, if he wants to be top-level, he has to continue to improve on the defensive side, which he is," Petr said. "He is a key player for our PK as well. I wanna spread ice time for the whole team, but in crucial parts of the game he will be there.”

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This article is about:
2023 U18 World Hockey Championships Czechia U18 Germany U18 Norway U18 USA U18 WJC-18 Cole Eiserman Gabe Perreault Eduard Sale Dan Muse Jakub Petr
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