Czechia sent back-to-back champion Canada home early from World Junior Championship

Vancouver prospects Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Tom Willander, and Elias Pettersson win silver for Sweden

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Czechia player on their backhand driving to the Canadian net.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Hockey Canada's Instagram

By: Kaja Antic, Sports Writer

Team Canada made an earlier than expected exit from the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championships, hosted from December 26–January 5 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Canada finished second in the Group A standings during the preliminaries — suffering their only loss to the tournament’s host nation 2–0, who finished at the top of the Group A standings. Canada earned high-scoring results in their three preliminary wins, beating Finland 5–2, Germany 6–3, and shutting out Latvia 10–0

Canada entered this year’s tournament as the reigning champions, winning gold in 2022 and 2023. In last year’s gold medal game, the team defeated Czechia in overtime, after Czechia tied the game at two late in the third period. Unfortunately for the young Canadian players, this year’s tournament did not yield the same results.

Heading into the second period of the quarterfinals matchup against Czechia, Canada was down 2–0. Striking back in the following 20 minutes, Canada tied the game going into the third period, thanks to goals from the Nashville Predators 2023 15th overall draft pick Matthew Wood, and San Jose Sharks prospect Jake Furlong.

The game was poised to go to overtime, similar to last year’s finals between the two. Yet, with 11 seconds left on the clock, St. Louis Blues prospect Jakub Stancl scored to give Czechia the upper hand, effectively eliminating Canada from the tournament. Stancl himself called the game-winning goal a lucky bounce,” as the shot deflected off the stick of team Canada player and Philadelphia Flyer prospect Oliver Bonk, hit the post and went behind Canadian goalie Mathis Rousseau to put Czechia ahead in the dying seconds of the game.

Team Canada’s captain and Vancouverite Fraser Minten described the unanticipated loss as “feel[ing] like the world’s ending a bit.” Much of the current roster — including Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Minten — will be ineligible to play in next year’s tournament due to age restrictions. All players must be 20 or younger by December 31 of the year the tournament ends, as games begin and carry over into the new year. The oldest eligible players at next year’s tournament in Ottawa will be born in 2005.

Czechia went on to the tournament semifinals, losing 5–2 to Sweden. The game was tied heading into the final 20 minutes, until Sweden scored three unanswered goals to seal their spot in the gold medal game. Two of three third-period goals came from tournament MVP and Vancouver Canucks prospect Jonathan Lekkerimäki.

The tournament ended the day later, with the US defeating Sweden 6–2 to win gold. Alongside Lekkerimäki, two more Canucks prospects won silver: Vancouver’s recent round one pick, defenceman Tom Willander, and defenceman Elias Pettersson who shares the exact same name as current Canucks forward Elias Pettersson with no relation

After losing to Sweden, Czechia beat Finland, who lost their semifinal game 3–2 against the US, for bronze. Czechia defeated Finland 8–5, overcoming a 5–2 deficit by scoring six unanswered goals; four in the penultimate minute of the game.

Despite the early exit from Team Canada, it was a good tournament for 17-year-old Macklin Celebrini, who led the team with eight points — four goals and four assists — in five games played. Even though Celebrini missed additional elimination games due to Canada’s quick departure, he ended the tournament in the top 20 for points and was the only player under 18 to score more than two points.

North Vancouver-born Celebrini is expected to go first overall in the 2024 NHL Entry Draft and is currently playing at Boston University, along with his older brother Aiden — another Canucks prospect.

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