Guenther scores in OT, Canada beats Czechia for 20th world junior gold

Guenther scores in OT, Canada beats Czechia for 20th world junior gold
Team Canada celebrates winning the gold medal over Czechia during overtime of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal game in Halifax on Thursday, January 5, 2023.

Dylan Guenther didn’t think he’d ever get his moment.

The same goes for Shane Wright.

Now they have a gold medal — and memories to last a lifetime.

Guenther scored his second goal of the night at 6:22 of overtime as the tournament hosts survived a blown 2-0 lead in the third period to defeat Czechia 3-2 in Thursday’s dramatic final at the world junior hockey championship.

“It means everything,” said the 19-year-old, who also added an assist. “You never know when you’re gonna get the opportunity to win again.

“To be here with this team and play in front of these fans and just the whole situation, it couldn’t have ended better.”

The Arizona Coyotes forward took a pass from Joshua Roy and buried his seventh goal in seven games on a 2-on-1 to give his country its 20th title at the men’s under-20 event.

“I remember I didn’t throw my gloves off right away,” said Guenther, an Edmonton native. “Almost forgot it was overtime, do or die.”

Wright, on his 19th birthday, had the other goal for Canada. Thomas Milic made 24 saves.

Guenther and Wright were both on Canada’s team at 2022 world juniors postponed last year because of COVID-19 and didn’t take part in the reimagined August event.

“Greatest feeling in the world,” Wright said as he clutched the trophy. “Can’t be more proud of those guys, couldn’t be more proud of that group.

“Hasn’t even sunk in yet.”

Canada is the first team to repeat since the country won five straight gold medals between 2005 and 2009 after tournament MVP Connor Bedard and seven other returnees also topped that pandemic-delayed summer showcase in Edmonton.

“We’re pretty pumped … a dream come true,” said the 17-year-old phenom. “To get it again is unbelievable.”

Jiri Kulich and Jakub Kos replied for Czechia. Tomas Suchanek stopped 35 shots.

The Czechs beat a disjointed Canada for the first time in 3,285 days when they picked up what was at the time a stunning 5-2 victory on Dec. 26, and appeared in the final for the first time since their only gold-medal triumphs in 2000 and 2001.

“Just their resiliency,” Canadian head coach Dennis Williams said of what he’ll remember about his group. “There was a lot of pressure put on them from the get-go. It would have been easy just to pack it in, especially after that first game.

“I love how they came to the rink every day hungry wanting more.”

Czechia — the country commonly known as the Czech Republic — finished fourth in the summer and earned its first medal since 2005. The United States picked up a wild 8-7 overtime victory against Sweden to take bronze.

Bedard, the Canadian maestro who rewrote page after page of both tournament and national record books in Halifax with 23 points, was held off the scoresheet Thursday.

It didn’t matter.

“Still by far the MVP of the tournament,” Wright said. “By far the best player in the tournament.”

The Burlington, Ont., native then added of the projected No. 1 pick at the 2023 NHL draft with a grin: “He’ll have a pretty good future in hockey.”

Canada appeared to be cruising to that 20th gold midway through the third before the plucky Czechs, who advanced to final thanks to a dramatic victory over Sweden in the semis, scored twice in 54 seconds.

“Don’t think there was ever doubt in my mind or anyone else’s mind,” said Milic, a Coquitlam, B.C., product. “We just stuck to our game plan.”

Both teams had chances in the 3-on-3 extra period before Guenther and Roy clinched it.

“I was already kind of trying to get over the bench when they got the puck,” Bedard said. “Not a bad duo going down.”

The Czechs came close to taking an early lead inside an ear-splitting Scotiabank Centre in the first period when Gabriel Szturc hit the crossbar.

Unhappy with Czechia’s exuberant celebrations following its Boxing Day victory, the Canadians made good on their first power play.

Guenther, one of three NHLers loaned to the national team for the tournament along with Wright and Brandt Clarke, blasted a shot bar down for his sixth of the tournament at 12:41 before the familiar strains of “Heave Away” by The Fables rang around the rink washed in red and white.

Milic, who made 43 saves in a 6-2 semifinal victory over the Americans, was excellent again as the period wore on.

Caedan Bankier, Zack Ostapchuk and Logan Stankoven all had chances on separate one-on-one sequences that Suchanek stopped before Wright struck.

The No. 4 pick by the Seattle Kraken at last summer’s draft, who had an up-and-down tournament, grabbed the puck in the neutral zone and fought off a defender before stepping past two more and roofing a backhand shot upstairs on the shortside for his fourth at 4:35.

“Don’t really know what happened there,” Wright joked. “Seems like (Bedard’s) rubbing off on me.

“More of a play he’d pull off.”

Wright watched every world junior final on his birthday growing up, and the crowd responded after his goal by singing “Happy Birthday” for the Canadian captain.

He nearly scored on a 2-on-1 midway in the third on a chance that might have sealed it, but the Czechs finally got on the board with 7:30 left in regulation when Kulich scored.

Jakub Kos tied it to stun the Canadians and the partisan crowd just 54 seconds later.

Guenther then etched his name in world junior lore.

Bedard set a boatload of records in the Maritimes. He also didn’t want to discuss his personal accomplishments post-game.

“A winner,” Guenther said. “He’s willing to do whatever it takes to win. A tremendous tournament, a historic tournament.

“A treat getting to play him with and the opportunity to watch him every day.”

The North Vancouver, B.C., talent now owns the national record with 31 all-time points and 14 all-time goals at the world juniors.

Bedard established a new mark for the most points by a Canadian in a single tournament with 23, owns the national record with 14 assists at one event, and registered the most points by a player aged 18 or younger.

Bedard’s 18 assists all-time are one short of the national mark, while he was a point shy of tying for the second-most by a player from any country at a tournament.

“Unbelievable,” Wright said. “I’m running out of things to say about how unbelievable his whole performance was this entire tournament.”

Soon off to a bigger stage with even brighter lights in the pros, Bedard won’t forget this group.

“My brothers,” he said. “We’re gonna have this together. We’re gonna cherish that unbelievable accomplishment years down the road.

“We’re gonna look back and remember every single guy.”

With those gold medals handing from their necks.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2023.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

Recent Stories

Send us your news tips and videos!