(Gothenburg) Alan Letang was on the edge of his seat as assistant coach in the press box.
Last year’s World Junior Hockey Championship final saw Canada lead Czechia 2-0 midway through the third period in Halifax, before two goals surprised the hosts.
The Canadians reset, kept their composure and scored in overtime to win a second straight gold medal.
Now head coach, Letang knows how close this team came to settling for the silver medal.
“We remember the good side,” Canada’s head coach said Monday afternoon. They remember their disappointment. »
The stakes won’t be as high when the two countries meet Tuesday in the tournament’s quarterfinals, but the same principles that allowed Canada to emerge victorious about 12 months ago still apply.
“The little mistakes, the little details were magnified,” Letang said. Little things that make the difference. I’m sure (the Czechs) remember that. »
Canada finished second in Group A at the current tournament.
The hockey powerhouse – down seven players either professional or unavailable due to injury or illness – finished the preliminary round with an unconvincing 6-3 victory over Germany on Sunday. However, the two teams were tied 3-3 with 12 minutes left in regulation.
“You have to persevere,” insisted Canada captain Fraser Minten about the state of mind after two frustrating periods. We were going to win if we kept our momentum going. »
“We’ve grown,” added defender Maveric Lamoureux. We know what kind of team we are. »
Letang also knows what the Czechs, who have six players returning from last year and who pushed the United States to a shootout in the preliminary round, will bring Tuesday.
“It seems difficult, but it hasn’t even started yet,” he stressed.
Czechia head coach Patrik Augusta, who was not on staff last year, will rely on his veterans.
“They could feel it,” he said of winning gold in 2023. “I’m sure it hurt. »
Canada should know by the time the players get off the bus on Tuesday whether Matt Savoie will wear the uniform or not.
On Monday, the winger skated for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury on Friday.
Savoie was on the ice with Conor Geekie, ejected 11 seconds into Sunday’s game for an illegal hit to the head, and Jagger Firkus, a forward just recalled from the Moose Jaw Warriors of the League. ‘West.
“He looked good, he moved very well,” Letang noted of Savoie. We will see. »
Canada received some good news when the International Ice Hockey Federation’s disciplinary committee announced that Geekie would not be suspended, after the big forward received a major penalty and game misconduct for an illegal bodycheck at the head in his first presence against the Germans.
Macklin Celebrini, the 17-year-old center expected to be selected first overall in the upcoming NHL draft, saved Canada by scoring two goals and drawing a penalty that led to the game-winning goal.
“He’s really competitive,” Minten said. He has the skills, but during each appearance, he is motivated to make things happen. His hands move as fast as his feet and his brain. »
Augusta was impressed by Celebrini, who is tied with three other players for second in tournament scoring.
“He is agile,” argued the Czech head coach. He can beat you one-on-one in a flash, but we have to be ready to face every player. »
One of those players on Team Canada is defenseman Oliver Bonk, the son of Czech-born former NHL player Radek Bonk. Young Bonk was born in Ottawa, but spent part of his childhood in his father’s native country.
“It was always fun to watch,” Oliver Bonk said of the Canada-Czech Republic games. There was division in the family, but for now, it’s just Canada in its own right. »
Radek Bonk was in attendance at a Hockey Canada reception on New Year’s Day, where players introduced their parents to the team.
“He was excited,” Minten said with a smile. He’d say, ‘You better win or we’ll never get home.'”
Canada expects a tough and competitive opponent on Tuesday. A quarter of the Czech team felt the bitter disappointment of last year.
“They will be hungry,” Letang suggested. If you have the opportunity to come back, you remember how difficult it is and how much it takes. We try to pass that on to our players. »