In many cities over many decades have Canada and the Czechs played hockey, but until tonight never Paris.
The massively pro-Czech crowd of 8,834 left disappointed, though, because their team was beaten by a superior, but sloppy, Canada, 4-1.
The Canadians got goals from four skaters and captain Claude Giroux added two assists. Lukas Radil had the lone goal for the Czechs.
Canada’s goalie Cal Pickard, now 3-0 in his World Championship career, made many fine saves and looked to be in mid-tournament form.
“They came out buzzing,” Pickard said. “I think they’ve played a few more games than we have. We’ve only had a few practices and one game. We knew we were going to make mistakes. We just wanted to keep getting better every period. I thought we did that. A 4-1 win to get us kicked off here, it’s a great start.”
“Pickard definitely kept us in there, but it’s our first game,” offered forward Mark Scheifele. “We’ve got to build off this. Obviously we’re not happy with the full game, but we had hints of brightness. So, we’ve just got to continue to press and get better. That’s how you win in this tournament.”
In truth, the first-game sloppiness went both ways but made for many scoring chances and a thrilling game all the same.
But if Canada and the Czechs are going to be playing the kind of end-to-end hockey they demonstrated tonight, it’s going to be a fun fortnight in the City of Lights for Parisian fans of hockey sur glace.
Canada won the game, but it was a thrill a minute throughout as teams sped their way up and down the ice, creating scoring chances and, yes, making some giveaways they likely won’t make in a few days’ time.
“I thought we started all right,” suggested Radko Gudas. “Unfortunately we got scored on pretty quickly. That’s not so good. We wanted to have the first ten minutes pretty strong, and for us, I thought we turned the page pretty well and kept going. I thought we had our chances and unfortunately we didn’t bury them early enough.”
It was a veritable Philadelphia Flyers reunion out there as well, and that added a bit of flair to the evening. Canadians Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, and Travis Konecny were matched against Jakub Voráček and Gudas, teammates all during the NHL’s season, but adversaries tonight.
“It was awesome,” Gudas enthused, despite taking offsetting minors with Giroux early in the game. “I see him in practice every day, you know, seeing him in a different jersey, it was fun. We went after it a little bit, got a couple of nice hits, couple of talks. It was fun to see him. But I guess, unfortunately, for us, they got the three points. It’s hockey.”
The Canadians opened the scoring at 6:09 on a typical Canadian play. Three times they beat their man to the puck, and three times they did something to help put the disc in the goal.
First, Tyson Barrie got to a loose puck in centre ice and got it deep into the Czech end. Then, Scheifele outfoxed Jakub Krejčík behind the goal when the puck was up for grabs, sweeping a quick pas in front. And then Ryan O’Reilly outfought Jakub Jeřábek to get a stick on the puck and pop it in.
Brayden Point had a breakaway a short time later but was stopped by Petr Mrázek, and then Mitch Marner, who took a puck to his left cheek a few minutes earlier, gave the puck up in front of his own goal. Michal Řepík wheeled and fired but Pickard made the save.
The Czechs had a brief two-man advantage later, but the best chance came from Jan Rutta, who hit the post behind Pickard.
Canada started the second on a power play and wasted no time in upping the lead. This time a quick point shot from Mike Matheson hit teammate Brayden Schenn on the way to the goal, changing direction and fooling Mrázek just 55 seconds into the second.
The Czechs had plenty of chances to get close and showed little touch—or puck—around Pickard. Tomas Kundrátek had a great chance moments after Schenn’s goal, but Pickard made a great glove grab.
But the chanve of the period—it should have been a goal—came off the stick of Jan Kovář. Creating a nice give-and-go with captain Jakub Voráček, Kovář headed to the net for the return pass, but much to even his own disbelief he shot over the crossbar of the wide-open goal.
The Czechs were finally rewarded on the power play midway through the third. Pickard stoned Kovář on one chance, but the goalie was down and out when Radil swatted the rebound into the open side at 12:41 to make it a 2-1 game.
Travis Konecny made sure that was as far as the Czechs got. He barrelled down the right wing behind the Czech goal, fought off two defenders, and fired a great pass in front to Barrie. Barrie’s low shot found the net to restore the two-goal lead just two minutes after Radil’s goal.
Jeff Skinner added an empty netter with 42.1 seconds remaining.
The Czechs are right back at it tomorrow afternoon against Belarus (0-1) while Canada has a day off before playing Slovenia.
IHLC: With the win, Canada retains the International Hockey Lineal Championship, their 63rd title, which they won three days ago in Geneva in a win over the Swiss in a pre-tournament exhibition game. This meeting marks the 75th IHLC meeting between these two nations, dating back to their first tilt back in 1920, and improves Canada’s record all-time to 37-32-6. This is their first meeting since Canada’s 6-0 thrashing over the Czechs at September’s World Cup of Hockey; Canada has now won four straight over the Czechs for the IHLC, by a combined total score of 15-1. Lastly, this also marks the first IHLC match in the City of Lights in 65 years, the last being a Canada-Sweden exhibition match in March 1952. Canada will next meet Slovenia in two days’ time with the title up for grabs.
06:09 – GOAL – O’Reilly (Scheifele, Barrie)
09:51 – PEN – Giroux, high sticking
09:51 – PEN – Gudas, roughing
14:31 – PEN – MacKinnon, interference
16:11 – PEN – Matheson, high sticking
19:42 – PEN – Kempný, hooking
20:55 – PP GOAL – Matheson (Skinner, Giroux)
32:07 – PEN – Zohorna, high sticking
42:48 – PEN – Morrissey, hooking
50:46 – PEN – Killorn, slashing
52:41 – PP GOAL – Radil (Kovář, Voráček)
54:50 – GOAL – Barrie (Konecny, Giroux)
59:18 – EN GOAL – Skinner
W: Pickard (28-29)
L: Mrázek (24-27)
SHOTS ON GOAL
10+10+8 = 28
10+11+8 = 29
Goaltenders: Chad Johnson, Calvin Pickard. Defence: Tyson Barrie, Calvin de Haan, Jason Demers, Michael Matheson, Josh Morrissey, Marc-Édouard Vlasic (A). Forwards: Matt Duchene, Claude Giroux (C), Alex Killorn, Travis Konecny, Ryan O’Reilly (A), Nathan MacKinnon, Mitchell Marner, Brayden Point, Mark Scheifele, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jeff Skinner.
Goaltenders: Pavel Francouz, Petr Mrázek. Defence: Radko Gudas, Jakub Jeřábek, Michal Kempný, Jakub Krejčík, Tomáš Kundrátek, Jan Rutta, Radim Šimek. Forwards: Michal Birner, Roman Červenka, Robin Hanzl, Roman Horák, Jan Kovář (A), David Pastrňák, Tomáš Plekanec (A), Lukáš Radil, Michal Řepík, Jakub Voráček (C), Petr Vrána, Tomáš Zohorna.