Canada cruises past Czech Republic to win Group B at world juniors

OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — Canada scored four power-play goals in a dominant first period Tuesday to beat the Czech Republic 7-2 and finish first in Group B at the world junior hockey championship.

Joe Veleno, in his return from suspension, Nolan Foote, Barrett Hayton and Connor McMichael scored on the man advantage in a span of nine minutes 49 seconds, making the tournament hosts pay for a complete lack of discipline at the tightly called under-20 international event.

After the Czechs pushed back with two quick goals in the second from Vojtech Strondala and Libor Zabransky inside a raucous Ostravar Arena, Liam Foudy and Dylan Cozens, on another power play, put the game out of reach.

Jared McIsaac rounded out the scoring in the third.

Joel Hofer got his second consecutive start in goal for the Canadians, who will face Slovakia in the quarterfinals Thursday.

Hayton and Cozens each added three assists for the 17-time gold medallists on New Year’s Eve. Veleno added two helpers of his own.

Czech goalie Lukas Parik found himself in a shooting gallery early, stopping just 5 of the 9 shots he faced before leaving with a lower-body injury after McMichael scored Canada’s fourth. Nick Malik, the No. 3 netminder with starter Lukas Dostal already hurt, came on in relief.

Canada finished the preliminary round with a 3-1 record — the only blemish coming in an embarrassing 6-0 loss to Russia in its second game.

The other quarterfinal matchups will see Sweden meet the Czechs, the United States take on Finland and Switzerland tangle with Russia.

Russia beat Germany 6-1 in Group B’s early game, while the Swedes beat Slovakia and the Swiss upset the Finns to grab second in Group A. As the last-place teams in their respective pools, Germany and Kazakhstan will play a best-of-three relegation series for a spot at next year’s event in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta.

Veleno, who was back in the lineup after serving his one-game ban for a head-butting incident, got things started at 4:41 when he caught Parik out of position after Hayton’s initial shot was blocked on Canada’s first man advantage.

With the energetic home fans whistling in hopes of causing a distraction, Foote then blasted a one-timer upstairs for his third on another power play at 9:57 before Czech forward Otakar Sik was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for spearing Canadian defenceman Bowen Byran in the groin.

Another penalty made in a two-man advantage, and Hayton scored his third just 20 seconds later at 13:29 — a goal that just crossed the line despite Parik’s best efforts and needed a video review of more than seven minutes.

McMichael then got in on the action just 61 seconds later when he popped home his second at the side of the net to tie a tournament record with four power-play goals in one period as the large pockets of Canadian support among the sellout crowd of 8,693 celebrated.

Canada was once again without star winger Alexis Lafreniere, the projected No. 1 pick at the 2020 NHL draft, but assistant coach Andre Tourigny said Tuesday morning that the reigning Canadian Hockey League player of the year went through some warmup stretching with teammates and looked “really good.”

Coached by former NHLer Vaclav Varada and minus injured star forwards Jan Jenik and Jan Sir, the Czechs made it 4-1 when Strondala, who was only added to the roster Tuesday, jumped on a Hofer rebound at 11:10.

Zabransky then scored his fourth of the world juniors 14 seconds later when Canada couldn’t get the puck deep at the offensive blue line, but Foudy took advantage of a strange bounce off a dump-in to score his second just 10 seconds after that.

Cozens then got in on the action, deflecting a point shot on yet another man advantage 56 seconds later.

McIsaac scored Canada’s seventh midway through the third.

After surrendering a combined 10 goals in two games to open the world juniors — including an eye-popping six against Russia in the country’s worst defeat in tournament history — Canada put in a much better effort in Monday’s 4-1 win over Germany.

Hofer got the call in that one ahead of Nico Daws, who allowed eight goals on 50 shots in just over four periods of action, with Canada wobbling after that defeat to Russia.

The 19-year-old from Winnipeg steadied things for a fragile group with an 18-save performance — including three big stops in the second period with his team up 1-0 — and was handed a second-straight start 24 hours later.

Hofer came in having played both ends of a back-to-back six times this season for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, with a 5-1-0 record in the first game and a perfect 6-0-0 mark in the second.

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