Canada 5 Czech Republic 0
EDMONTON — When his teammates were struggling to score goals, it was Canadian goaltender Scott Wedgwood who provided the offensive spark.
Wedgewood’s long pass up to his forwards generated a much-needed second goal for Canada in a 5-0 win over the Czech Republic at the world junior hockey championship Wednesday.
The Plymouth Whalers netminder couldn’t have had a better first game in the tournament. Wedgewood stopped all 26 shots he faced for the shutout and got an assist. Edmonton’s Rexall Place chanted his name after the game.
“That’s probably the best I could have come up with,” the New Jersey Devils prospect said. “A team win, keep them off the board for goals and then obviously to get a point was pretty cool. I could have scored a goal, but I don’t think that was going to happen.”
Mark Scheifele of the Barrie Colts scored a pair of third-period goals, which was a weight off the shoulders of the first-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets. Scheifele hadn’t scored in three exhibition games or in Canada’s first game of the tournament.
“A very big relief,” Scheifele said. “I was looking for a goal for awhile. It was good to pop in a few, but the main goal is to help the team as much as possible.”
Mark Stone of the Brandon Wheat Kings, Ryan Strome of the Niagara IceDogs and Brett Connolly of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning also scored for Canada, who topped Pool B at 2-0.
Scheifele’s Colts teammate Tanner Pearson assisted on both of his goals. Stone’s goal was his fourth in two games.
Petr Mrazek was in the Czech net for the second day in a row after stopping 12 shots in his country’s 7-0 win Tuesday over Denmark. He made the night tough for Canada by turning away 33-of-38 shots in front of 16,417 spectators.
“It was a very emotional game,” Canadian head coach Don Hay said. “Sometimes when you play against a good goalie like that, he can beat you alone. We didn’t let him beat us. We found a way.”
Canada faces Denmark (0-2) on Thursday. The host country concludes the preliminary round Saturday against the United States, who were upset 4-1 by Finland earlier to put both countries at 1-1.
In Pool A games in Calgary, Sweden edged Switzerland 4-3 in a shootout, while Russia was to face Slovakia in a later game. Sweden was 1-0-1, while the Swiss picked up their first point of the tournament.
At first, the goals weren’t coming as easily for the hosts as they were in Canada’s 8-1 win over Finland to open the tournament Monday.
The team is now without NHL player Devante Smith-Pelly for the rest of the tournament. The Anaheim Ducks winger broke a bone in his foot blocking a shot in Monday’s game. Smith-Pelly’s thunderous checks create space for his linemates to generate scoring chances.
Leading 1-0 after the first period, Canada missed scoring chances in the second period. Brendan Gallagher fanned on an open net while Freddie Hamilton and Connolly couldn’t convert an odd-man rush.
While Hay said prior to the tournament he considered Mark Visentin of the Niagara IceDogs his No. 1 goalie, he also wanted to get Wedgewood starts in the tournament. Visentin made 24 saves Monday against Finland.
Wedgewood’s long pass to Freddie Hamilton at the blue-line generated what felt like a go-ahead goal. While Hamilton was stopped on his initial rush by Mrazek, he got a pass away to Strome who finished for a power-play goal at 16:16 of the second period.
“I wasn’t really expecting him to throw that up there,” Hamilton said of the pass from his goalie. “Right on the tape and just sent me in there so it was a really nice play.”
Added Scheifele: “I always knew Wedgie could fire the puck, but to actually get an assist in his first game, it was unreal. A great game by him.”
Canada played with more flare after the second goal. Connolly scored a pretty goal one before the second period ended. He deked Czech defenders and when his first shot hit the post, he tapped the puck in with a strong second effort to make it 3-0.
Once Canada took control of the game, it took on a nasty edge as both countries were penalized often. Canadian defenceman Nathan Beaulieu took a misconduct with less than two minutes to go for checking to the head.
“I’m sure both teams would like to have a little more discipline in their game,” Hay said. “I know we would for sure.”
The set-up and finish duo of Jonathan Huberdeau and Stone that dominated Canada’s first game struck again in the opening period. Huberdeau skated the puck around the back of the net and Stone knocked in his goal-mouth pass at 5:37.
Stone was awarded a penalty shot in the last minute of the first period when Finnish defenceman Jiri Riha smothered the puck in the goal crease. Stone made one move too many and was stopped by Mrazek.
Canada’s penalty kill units were tested in this game. They killed Czech five-on-three chances in the first and third period and held them scoreless on six chances.
Wedgewood declared after selection camp earlier this month he wanted starting goaltender’s job. He made a case for it Wednesday. Hay was not showing his hand as to who would start against Denmark or the U.S.
“I thought Scott played very well. I can see why the fans would be excited for him,” Hay said. “I feel both our goalies played well in their two starts. Where I’m going with it, you’ll have to come to the game tomorrow and find out because I’m not going to tell anybody.”