Canada

Canada cashes blank Czech to reach world junior hockey semifinals

Dylan Cozens has emerged as Captain Canada.

Cozens, a Buffalo Sabres prospect, had a goal and an assist as Canada advanced to Monday’s semifinals with a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic.

Bowen Byram and Connor McMichael, into an empty net, also scored in Canada’s toughest game yet at the world junior hockey championship in Edmonton’s Rogers Place.

It was a night when everyone with a letter got into the scoring. Byram wore the C, McMichael and Cozens wore the A.

But Cozens has shown the way, doing everything: score, assist, deflect, intercept, check and skate just about harder and faster than anyone else.

And they needed his leadership against the Czechs, who managed to outshoot Canada for stretches and take the play to goalie Devon Levi, who had his busiest game. He was solid yet again to earn his second shutout and is yet to allow an even-strength goal. He’s played every minute in the Canadian net.

  • How it went: It should have been a huge mismatch. Martin Lang came into the game as Czech’s top points producer, with three goals and an assist for four points. Nine Canadians had at least five points, and four had at least three goals.

The game had a familiar feel to it in that Canada scored first — Canada hasn’t trailed yet through five games — and led 2-0 by the end first period. But it took the Canadians — who scored in the first five minutes in the first four games — longer than usual: Cozens on a breakaway he helped create at 8:22 and Byram scored at 11:39.

But there were some chinks in the armour as the Canadians were outshot 12-8 in the first period, and Canada didn’t look particularly sharp without the puck. They outshot the Czechs in the second period 10-6.

As for the third period, Canada played most of the period in the Czech end. The Czechs were just as efficient at preventing scoring chances, though they generated few of their own until they pulled goalie Nick Malik — multiple times over the final six minutes.

  • Not dominant, but … Canada still has not given up an even-strength goal in the tournament. The Czechs have beaten Canada once. Canada has wow won 17 of 20 games against the Czechs, dating back to 1994. There were two ties. The only ime the Czechs won was 2015, winning in a shootout.

Canada went with 12 forwards and eight defencemen, with centre Alex Newhook’s upper body injury vs. Finland. Connor Zary took Newhook’s spot between Cole Perfetti and Peyton Krebs. With no more forwards to draw on, defenceman Jordan Spence dressed for his second game.

  • Captain Canada: With Kirby Dach sidelined from the get-go with a wrist injury, management decided to alternate the C between Cozens and Byram, who had been designated alternates when Dach had been named captain. Byram wore the C on Saturday. Cozens and McMichael wore A’s.

But it’s clear through five games that Cozens is this year’s Captain Canada.

Cozens had two goals, seven assists on last year’s team. And with his offensive output this tournament, he now sits sixth on Canada’s all-time world junior scoring list, having passed John Tavares on Saturday. The current Leafs captain had 21 points through two tournaments (2008, 2009). Eric Lindros (1990, 1991, 1992) is the Canadian leader with 31 points.

Cozens has been called the Workhorse from Whitehorse and the Yukon Goal Rush

“I think I just improved kind of my all-around game,” said Cozens, who plays for Lethbridge but hails from Whitehorse. “Just moving the puck up the ice, skating with it, having the confidence on zone entries, and just trying to create offence in the offensive zone, create offence from nothing.

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“That’s the biggest I just tried to work on. That and then my explosiveness my first three steps. I do feel stronger, faster and, just bigger in every aspect of my game. I’m happy that a lot of the work I put in this off-season starting to pay off for me.”

  • Up next: When the game finished, Canada’s semifinal opponent had yet to be determined. As the top seed, Canada will get the lowest seed that survived the quarterfinals — which would be Russia if the U.S. beat Slovakia in Saturday’s nightcap. If the Slovaks pull off an upset, they’d draw Canada in the semis. Canada beat Russia 1-0 in a pre-tournament game and hasn’t faced the Slovaks.
  • Statistically speaking: Despite being the only team to go undefeated in either group, the Canadians did not dominate the analytical statistics as measured by Sportlogiq, though they were usually in the top three in key categories. Canada was tops in:

  • Even-strength goals for (6.72 per 60 minutes).
  • Forechecking, as measured by denying an entry into the Canadian zone.
  • Allowing the fewest even-strength shot attempts against (43.0 per 60).
  • Denying the opponent entry into its zone while killing a penalty.

Canada was terrific at getting shots on net from the slot (6.47 per 60) and preventing opponents from getting shot attempts off the rush, cycle and forecheck.

The Canadians controlled the puck in the offensive zone at even strength on average for 8:37, while the opposition controlled the puck in Canada’s end for 3:27.

If Canada lacked at anything, it was loose puck recovery, winning just 34.3 per cent of those battles at even strength.

  • Leafs watch: Maple Leafs prospect Roni Hirvonen scored the third-period winner with 25 seconds left, on a wraparound, as Finland beat Sweden 3-2 in come-from-behind fashion in an earlier quarterfinal. “It was an unbelievable feeling to score a goal like that,” said Hirvonen. “Can’t describe it better than that. That was the biggest goal I ever scored.” His goal ensured all six Leafs prospects (three Finns, three Russians) at the tournament will advance to the semifinals. It was Hirvonen’s first goal to go along with four assists. Defenceman Topi Niemela has two goals and four assists. Defenceman Mikko Kokkonen has one assist. The other three Leafs prospects are with Russia, which beat Germany 2-1 to advance. Rodion Amirov has two goals and four assists. Mikhail Abramov has two assists. Backup goalie Artur Akhtyamov won the only game he played.

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