Canada vs. Czechia takeaways: Three reasons why defending gold medalists were upset in 2023 World Juniors opener

There’s a famous sports expression: “That’s why you play the game.” That message could not have exemplified any better than it was on Monday night in Halifax. 

Canada was stunned in its 2023 World Junior Championship opener, falling 5-2 to Czechia in Group A play. It was Canada’s first loss to Czechia at the tournament since 2014. 

People were discussing this Canada team in the same conversation as the best teams to be fielded by the country at the tournament. TSN’s James Duthie correctly pointed out on the pregame show that people should wait until the team actually played a game. 

What followed was a subpar, uninspiring effort by the Canadians. 

MORE: Team Canada roster, schedule, results

“I don’t want to say shock because we knew if we didn’t bring it that there are some really good teams here, but it’s kind of like disbelief,” Canada defenseman Brandt Clarke said after the loss. “We didn’t fight to get back into it. (But) we’re still a threat in this tournament. We know we’re a threat.”

It’s still early in the competition and there is plenty of time for Canada to readjust, but Dennis Williams’ crew needs to figure things out fast. No can afford to string together multiple bad performances at this type of a tournament. 

MORE: 2023 World Juniors schedule, standings, results

Here are three reasons why Canada was upset by Czechia to start the 2023 World Juniors: 

Three reasons why Canada lost to Czechia

Missed assignments on defense

Oh, boy, the video review of this game is going to be fun. On four of the five goals allowed by Canada, there was a clear missed assignment or defensive mistake that directly resulted in the puck being in the back of the net. 

Adam Fantilli had to pick up David Spacek on the first Czechia goal. He had Spacek covered at the point, but lost him when the defenseman cut to the back door. He got his stick out, but he was a half-second too late and Spacek had the whole net to shoot at. 

Connor Bedard needed to get in the shooting lane on David Moravec’s goal to make it 2-1. I’ll cut Bedard a bit of slack since Petr Hauser ran a bit of a pick on him, preventing him from getting to the point. However, it was far from his best effort. 

The coverage on the Svozil goal was unacceptable. When Svozil collected the puck, all five Canada players were on the other half of the ice. Both Fantilli and Logan Stankoven were down low, for some reason. There has to be communication to make sure someone is covering Svozil at the point. 

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At no level should a defenseman be able to receive a D-to-D pass, walk in untouched to the faceoff dot and get off a clean shot.

The fourth goal fell on Ethan Del Mastro and Colton Dach. When David Jiricek dumped the puck in, it was understandable why Del Mastro went to the corner to chase him. If it were 5-on-5, that would be a lot more acceptable. But Canada was on the penalty kill, and so both defensemen were essentially in the same corner with no one to cover in front. 

Jiricek made an extremely high-IQ play by quickly scanning behind him to see if he had options and spotted Chmelar cutting to the front of the net. He also saw Dach, who was backchecking on the play and not in position to defend Chmelar. For some reason, Dach went to the far side of the net, not the front, which allowed Chmelar to plant himself at the top of the crease with ease.

The worst part might be that not once did Dach look behind him to see if there were any Czech players that he should cover. That’s hockey 101 when backchecking. 

A poor debut for Benjamin Gaudreau

Multiple teams at this year’s tournament come in with goaltending concerns. If Canada wasn’t on that list before, it is now.  

With no clear No. 1 option between Gaudreau and Thomas Milic, Williams elected to go with Gaudreau for the opener. The Sharks prospect did not do himself any favors in securing the top job; he was pulled in the second period after allowing five goals on 17 shots. 

MORE: Top 10 NHL prospects at 2023 World Juniors

Sometimes, a goalie pull is necessary to send the rest of the team a message. While that could have been the case here, Gaudreau made it easy for Williams. Let’s break down a few of his allowed goals: 

On the third goal, the defensive breakdown left Svozil alone to walk in from the blue line, but Gaudreau needs to make that save. You can blame the traffic in front of him on Moravec’s goal that made it 2-1, but you can’t say that was the case on Svozil’s. Gaudreau appeared to be guessing glove and it went blocker. 

It’s hard to fault Gaudreau on the fourth Czechia goal. It was more about Del Mastro leaving the front of the net early and Dach failing to cover for him. But he did get a stick on the pass attempt from Jiricek. If his stick was in a better position, the puck would have never reached Chmelar in front. 

The back-breaker was Mensik’s goal off the rush to make it 5-2. Gaudreau had no business letting that shot in from the short side. Somehow, with Mensik at the bottom of the circle, Gaudreau left space under his blocker for the goal. A fitting end for a tough World Juniors debut. 

Zach Dean’s major penalty

The major penalty on Dean in the second period was a huge momentum-killer for Canada. After Connor Bedard made it a one-goal game, a hit from Dean on Ales Cech was called a hit to the head and Dean was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct. 

Czechia took advantage of the long power play, getting two goals in the back half to pull ahead 5-2. While Canada’s penalty kill was strong for a majority of the game, the missed assignment on the Chmelar score and the weak goal allowed by Gaudreau on the Mensik shot resulted in Czechia extending its lead. 

As for the penalty itself: Is it a major penalty in the NHL? For sure not. It may not even be called as a minor.

But this isn’t the NHL or Canadian major juniors. The IIHF has always cracked down harder on hits to the head than North American leagues.

MORE: Seven major rule differences between the NHL and IIHF

Like it or not, that’s five and a game under the IIHF rules and has always been called that way. 

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