MALMO, Sweden — Forward Radek Faksa’s mouth was full of blood after taking a high stick to the face. After the game, with his teeth chipped and lips fat, he said he felt no pain. It was only minor inconvenience after helping the Czech Republic pull off a 5-4 shootout victory over Team Canada.
The last time the Czechs had beaten the Canadians, they were still under the banner of Czechoslovakia.
“So many people in Czech Republic didn’t trust us today with Canada,” said Faksa, who plays for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. “They thought we would lose by five goals or something. They will be surprised that we won in a shootout.”
The surprise will be shared equally by fans in Canada. Many expected head coach Brent Sutter’s squad to roll through the weaker Group A relatively unscathed before a New Year’s Eve matchup with defending gold medalists Team USA.
“Whenever you put the Canadian jersey on you’re expected to win every game,” said Sutter. “The reality is, you’re not going to. It’s just how you deal with it and how you handle it that’s going to make us a better team.”
It was Czech forward Dominik Simon that bested Canada’s Jake Paterson with a world-class move with one hand reaching behind the 19-year-old netminder to slip the puck past him. He said he’d only tried the move out before in practice and had never dared to do it in a game.
“I tried to stretch out as best I could,” said Paterson. “Unfortunately I couldn’t reach it.
“Obviously I’d like to be better for the team. But there’s nothing we can do now.”
The game was a see-saw battle with the Czech’s from the start after David Kampf opening the scoring early in the first period. Canada came back to tie the game four different times to eventually force overtime and the shootout.
“It’s tough,” said forward Charles Hudon, who scored the game tying goal with minutes left in the third period. “It’s pretty tough for everybody, but we need to stay positive. We took a step back today so we’ll have to take a step forward tomorrow.”
There was more than one factor that contributed to Canada’s loss. Goaltending, which has been the nation’s Achilles Heel of late at the world junior championship, was not as solid as it needed to be.
“I’m not saying he had his best game – I didn’t’ think he did – and I’m sure he’ll be the first to tell you that, too,” said Sutter of Paterson. “There are others that didn’t play to the level they should have for 60 minutes either. You can’t just key in on one position, I’m just not going to do that.
“He’s a good goalie and I’m sure he’d like to have couple of those goals back.”
After the game Sutter hinted at a goalie change saying no one would assume that a goalie start three games in five nights.
“You’ve got to think that something’s got to change there,” said Sutter.
That might have just been a kinder way of noting Zach Fucale should start Canada’s next game on Monday against Slovakia.
On the other side of the ice, Czech goalie Marek Langhammer, who plays for the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers came through with some big saves – including two in the shootout on forwards Connor McDavid and Nic Petan.
“The Czechs played an opportunist-type game,” said Sutter. “They made the most of their chances and they capitalized on them. We had a lot of opportunities and their goalie made some big saves for them especially in the first period and kept them in the game. He allowed them to have some life and that’s what happens.”
Goaltending wasn’t the only problem for Canada. Poor discipline also played a part in Team Canada’s undoing – particularly two hooking calls by youngster McDavid – which resulted in Czech goals. McDavid, only 16, is playing in his first world junior tournament and has been one of Canada’s most valued offensive contributors. For the first time, he seemed to have shown his age.
“I thought at times with Connor his youth showed tonight,” said Sutter. “He’s an exceptional player but this is the world junior level and at time it is going to happen with young players – but he wasn’t the only one – I thought our youth showed in other areas tonight, too.”
Things became heated with seconds winding down in the second period as McDavid fired the puck behind Langhammer after the buzzer. Czech defenceman Michal Plutnar took umbrage with the move and knocked down the linesman in order to get at McDavid. Plutnar only received a two-minute penalty for roughing and nothing was assessed for abuse of official because it was, surprisingly, deemed an accident.
After the game, Team Canada captain Scott Laughton said his job would be to rally the team past the disappointment and focus on the rest of the tournament, which is still early in the round robin.
“We’re going to keep our chins up and the guys are looking forward to the next game,” he said.
“This is a bit of a wakeup call.”