Canada not reading much into recent success against Czechs ahead of quarter-final

Canada not reading much into recent success against Czechs ahead of quarter-final

Team Canada players gather at centre ice during practice ahead of their quarter-final round match against the Czech Republic at the IIHF World Junior hockey Championship in Montreal, Sunday, January 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.

MONTREAL — Canada captain Dylan Strome says a couple of pre-tournament wins against the Czech Republic won’t amount to much when the teams meet in the quarter-finals of the world junior hockey championship.

Strome acknowledged the stakes will be much higher when Canada takes on the Czechs in Montreal on Monday with a semifinal matchup against either Sweden or Slovakia on the line.

“You can’t take any team for granted,” said Strome, who leads Canada with eight points after four games. “You have to be prepared for anything. It’s quarter-finals and you’re playing for your life now. You have to throw out all the stops.”

Strome and the Canadians shut out the Czechs 8-0 during Canada’s evaluation camp in Boisbriand, Que., on Dec. 14 prior to the team’s final roster cuts.

The following week, Canada downed the Czechs 5-0 in pre-tournament play in Ottawa. Anthony Cirelli scored two goals in that game while goaltender Connor Ingram made 21 saves for the shutout.

“They’ve had four games (since) to get ready, so they’re going to be a different team,” Strome said. “But so are we. You can’t base too much on the pre-tournament. We try not to worry about those games too much.”

Canada finished second in its group after going 3-1-0 in the preliminary round. The team’s only loss was in the group-stage finale against the Americans on Saturday.

Ingram got the start in that game over Carter Hart and looked shaky at times, conceding three goals on 20 shots.

Following Canada’s practice on Sunday, coach Dominique Ducharme did not reveal which goaltender would start against the Czechs. Ingram (1.52 goals-against-average) and Hart (2.50 goals-against-average) each made two starts for Canada in the group stage.

The Czechs finished third in Group A (1-1-2) and advanced to the knockout round despite only winning once. Czech defenceman Filip Hronek and forward Filip Chlapik led their side with two goals apiece in four games.

“The Czech Republic has some big players, some solid defencemen,” said Canada defenceman Thomas Chabot. “We played two games against each other. Obviously we won both games but that doesn’t mean anything right now.”

Canada is 12-1-2 all-time against the Czechs at the world junior hockey championship.

On Monday the Canadians will be without top-pair defenceman Philippe Myers, who left Saturday’s game against the Americans with a concussion. U.S. captain Luke Kunin hit Myers into the end boards early in the second period. Kunin was ejected for the late hit.

Ducharme will have to shuffle his defensive pairings for the quarter-final. Kale Clague of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings will likely jump onto the top pair with Chabot, taking Myers’ place. Canada already had seven defencemen on its roster.

“Everyone has to chip in, on defence and on forward,” said Ducharme. “Everyone has to work as a group of five. With Myers out, that doesn’t change. As a group of five, if we’re strong, then we’re fine.

“It’s never fun for a kid to be out like this. He’s doing everything to recover as fast as he can.”

Mitchell Stephens, who missed two games due to an ankle injury, will be back in the lineup for Canada. Stephens was hurt in Canada’s 5-0 win against Slovakia.

For the five returning Canadians on the team, Monday’s quarter-final is also a reminder of last year’s early exit. Canada finished sixth at last year’s tournament after losing to Finland in the quarter-final.

“Every guy who’s back from last year knows how bad we felt in the quarter-finals,” said Chabot. “Nobody wants the same thing to happen. We know it’s a do-or-die so we’re focused.”

In the two other quarter-finals, the U.S. will face Switzerland while Denmark takes on Russia.

Kelsey Patterson, The Canadian Press
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