Edmonton, AB - Both Canada and David Musil's Czech Republic came into tonight's game with unbeaten 1-0 records but, in a closer decision than the teams' previous outings in which the opponents were dismantled, the red and white prevailed in a 5-0 win to improve to 2-0 at the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship.
The Canadians cashed moments into the game when Jonathan Huberdeau and Mark Stone connected at 5:37; No. 11 outlasted his counterparts behind the net, staging a centering pass to Stone who made no mistake in dispatching the puck into the gaping cage behind Petr Mrazek, establishing a 1-0 lead.
Mrazek came up big moments later when Brendan Gallagher pounced on a one-time opportunity in the slot, but the netminder made a brilliant save, athletically denying the winger with a last-ditch pad stop to preserve his team's one-goal disadvantage.
Canada raced out to a commanding 7-3 lead in shots, but a late-period 5-on-3 chance allowed to visitors to close the gap; squandering the chance to score, however, but generating chances and building momentum to conclude the period down by a 15-10 margin in shots.
Czech rearguard Jiri Riha closed his hand on the puck in the crease with just 37.2 seconds to play, providing the Canadians with an opportunity to extend to a 2-0 lead on a penalty shot, but Mark Stone's attempt was denied, much to the delight of a celebratory Mrazek between the pipes.
"You don't see that every day, so it was a little odd, but we wanted to prove him wrong," said Ryan Strome, who laughed at the opponent's post-save glee. "We moved on and started scoring more goals, so that's all we cared about in the end.
"We wanted to pepper him with shots and we knew they'd go in eventually; he's a good goalie, but we got a couple by him and Wedge (Scott Wedgewood) outplayed him. That's all that matters."
He was better across the board.
The teams trudged through an even middle period, each recording double-digit totals in shots, but the game remained in a 1-0 score until the 16:16 mark when the Canadians broke the contest open. Freddie Hamilton was sprung on a partial break and, while his shot was turned aside, he pounced on his own rebound and centered to a bursting Strome who netted another Canadian tally.
"It was a great play," Strome explained, looking back on goaltender Scott Wedgewood's heads-up breakout pass. "You don't see goalies get an assist in a tournament like this, so we're giving him a lot of credit."
It become a 3-0 score 1:55 later when Brett Connolly danced through the visitors' zone, striking the near post on his initial attempt, but following the rebound and depositing the puck behind Mrazek with a subtle goal-line nudge.
"It was nice to see that one go in," he said, smiling ear-to-ear. "I'd been getting a lot of chances but just hadn't been able to bury one; but we had a lot of guys step up tonight, and our best players were our best players. It was a complete team game and what we wanted heading into this one.
"We're obviously thrilled with the win, but we've got another tough test tomorrow night and we need to be prepared."
"We're clicking right now and it's been really good," Strome added. "We know we have to get better each day. No one is going to be easy. Every team is good here and we're not going to look at that at all. Some people look at the standings, but we're playing every game to get better each game and build toward a gold medal."
With the game well in control, Winnipeg Jets prospect Mark Scheifele netted a pair in the third to seal the win.
Oilers prospect David Musil concluded the night with two minutes in penalties and a -1 rating as the Czechs were unable to contain the Canadians' valiant and unrelenting attack.
"It was a tough loss," he said, somberly, as media swarmed to congratulate the winning team below Section 120 at Rexall Place. "We started pretty good but we had to stick with it and keep getting shots on net. We ended up with quite a bit, but they weren't high-quality chances. We let out a lot of bad shots, high-slot chances, and we didn't do what we talked about.
"Special teams hurt us big-time," Musil added. "We took a lot of penalties and weren't able to convert on our power-plays, including that 5-on-3 that we wasted early on. It was a key point in the game and we didn't even get a good chance, let a lone a goal."
Trailing 1-0 in the second period, the Czechs stayed step-for-step with the home side, peppering 18 shots on Wedgewood while the Canadians countered with 23. While it was an evenly matched 20-minute stanza, the visitors lost control and succumbed to the red and white's attack late in the period.
"We started turning pucks over," Musil said, regarding his team's loss in composure when Canada scored a pair 1:55 apart. "Everyone was holding onto the puck too long and weren't looking up to pass. Everyone wanted to do it on their own tonight and you can never win games like that, especially against a team like Canada. They've got too much skill and we saw that tonight."
Musil and the Czechs will get a day to recover, but will return to action on Friday as they go head-to-head with the United States. The 18-year-old blueliner says that, while the loss to Canada was disheartening, there are lessons to be learned and much to take into their next, very challenging assignment.
"You've got to learn from every game," he said. "Canada is a great team and it's disappointing that we lost, but there's a lot to take into our game against the US. They're a similar team, and now that we've had a chance to size up Canada, we should be prepared for the next one."