A battle between the two remaining undefeated teams in Group A at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup didn’t disappoint.
In front of the biggest crowd yet of the tournament at the Peavey Mart Centrium, Canada won their final game of the preliminary round against Sweden 3-0 and asserted themselves as the best team in the group.
However, it wasn’t the usual blow out that Canada has been used to this tournament and Sweden gave the home team their first big test so far.
Canada head coach Stephane Julien said they had a big challenge in front of them and what he liked from his squad was their commitment to the defensive game.
“I like the commitment also lots of blocked shots, a very physical game,” Julien said. “A team hard to beat in their zone they were very good one-on-one but I felt the more the game was on offensively we win some pucks, we got some net presence, and we put some pucks on net. Very happy for everybody and our goaltending once again Scotty was unbelieveable.”
Forward Calum Ritchie scored his second goal and seventh point of the tournament (tied for first) to ignite the sea of red of Canadian fans into a frenzy.
“Yeah it was awesome. The atmosphere is unreal here and it was a good feeling for sure. Yeah we kind of battled hard there and I kind of got a good bounce,” he said. “I really enjoy playing with my linemates. I mean [Kalan] Lind battles really hard and same with [Mathieu] Cataford and we work really well on the cycle. We’ve had a lot of success there so we need to keep that up.”
Swedish goaltender Eric Olsson had a great opening period stopping 16 shots from Canada but the shot persistence of the Canadians paid off in the second period.
Canada scored their next goals in the middle frame as arguably the best line of the tournament of Zachary Benson, Ethan Gauthier, and Brayden Yager came up clutch for their team. Benson fired one into the back of the net slotting it top shelf off a slick pass from Gauthier, which was Benson’s sixth point of Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Six minutes later Yager scored on the powerplay for his fourth tally and seventh point of the tournament to extend Canada’s lead 3-0 off a pass from Ritchie.
“I think we battled hard ad obviously they showed more push back than other teams have and I thought it was a good test for us before the elimination round. I thought we had an overall good game and look forward to the semis,” Ritchie added.
Olsson finished with a stellar 40 saves for the Swedes and Canadian goaltender Scott Ratzlaff earns the shutout with 18 saves.
With the win, Canada will play against Finland at 5 p.m. on Friday at the Peavey Mart Centrium with a gold medal game birth on the line.
Earlier in the day Czechia knocked out the U.S. 3-1 to secure a spot in the semi-final to be played on Friday. Jan Kucera, Jan Sprynar and Jakub Dvorak scored for the Czech’s and Tanner Adams fired in the lone goal for the Americans. Czechia goaltender Michael Hrabel had an unreal performance stopping 34 of 35 shots from the U.S.
Meanwhile, Slovakia beat Switzerland in overtime 3-2 for their first win of the tournament. Slovakian forward Daniel Alexander Jencko opened the scoring for his team and four minutes later the Swiss answered with a goal of their own by Kevin Zurcher. In the second period Switzerland’s Rafael Meier took the lead on the powerplay. The Slovak’s Adam Cedzo scored minutes later on the powerplay to make it all square 2-2. In overtime, Cedzo sniped in his second goal of the game to secure the victory.