FARGO, N.D. — Canada faced its stiffest test Monday at the world under-18 hockey championship — and needed some late-game heroics to pull out the win.
Brett Connolly of the WHL’s Prince George Cougars scored 1:23 into overtime as the Canadians remained unbeaten with a come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Czech Republic. The victory earns Canada a berth in the playoff round, and keeps alive their hopes of a first-round bye.
After erasing a 3-0 deficit with a dominant third period, Canada kept the pressure on in overtime. It paid off, after Byron Froese carried the puck into the Czech zone and fired a shot that was stopped by Czech netminder Filip Novotny.
Simon Despres of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs scooped the rebound into Novotny, who lost the puck in his equipment. Connolly found the loose puck and chipped it over a prone Novotny to complete the spirited comeback.
Canadian head coach Mike Johnston said he expected a serious challenge from the Czechs.
“We knew coming in the Czechs were desperate,” said Johnston, the head coach of the WHL’s Portland Winter Hawks. “They played well … they had good legs, good skating, and they played a very solid game all-around.
“Early on we weren’t sharp. Our puck movement wasn’t good, and we didn’t have our legs.”
Johnston said this game was by far the toughest Canada (3-0) has played so far.
“For sure,” said Johnston. “We had a really tough exhibition game against Finland, but that was early on.”
By earning just two points for the overtime win rather than three points for a regulation victory, Canada trails Sweden (3-0) by a single point atop the Pool A standings. The two teams face off Tuesday, with the winner earning a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
The losing team will face the third-place finisher in Pool B in a quarter-final on Thursday.
Trailing 3-0 entering the third period, Canada erupted for three goals and could have had a fourth. John McFarland of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves trimmed the lead at 2:06 of the third, and Ryan O’Reilly of the OHL’s Erie Otters made it 3-2 just 10 seconds later.
Novotny was handed a delay of game penalty at 5:04, and the Canadians completed the comeback just four seconds later on a goal by Kingston Frontenacs blue-liner Eric Gudbranson.
Canada thought it had taken the lead at the eight-minute mark after Novotny gloved a shot dangerously close to the goal-line. Officials ruled the puck didn’t cross the line, and the score remained tied.