U.S. blanks Czechs to advance
by Lucas AYKROYD|25 MAY 2023
The U.S. celebrates after Matt Coronato's first-period goal in a 3-0 quarter-final victory over Czechia in Tampere at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, Finland – Latvia.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andrea Cardin
It was businesslike, and for U.S. fans, it was also beautiful. With goals from Matt Coronato, Nick Perbix, and Cutter Gauthier, the U.S. beat Czechia 3-0 in the first Tampere quarter-final at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, Finland – Latvia.

The Americans, who have captured four bronze medals (2013, 2015, 2018, 2021), are two wins away from earning their first Ice Hockey World Championship gold medal since 1933.

"We're as confident as we can be, but we know how hard a tournament it is to win in, how hard a tournament it is to medal in," said U.S. captain Nick Bonino. "Whoever we get next is a semi-finalist in a World Championship. So we'll focus on our game. We'll watch them and their tendencies a little bit, but the focus has been on us so far for eight games, and we'll keep it that way."

The smart, patient, two-way game of the young Americans, with an average age of 25, was never seriously challenged by the Czechs. When Gauthier, 19, scored his team-leading seventh goal in the third period, it was just the icing on the cake.

The Czechs, who ended a 10-year medal drought with bronze under coach Kari Jalonen here in Tampere last year, will go home emptyhanded.

"We had a problem to hold on to the puck in the O-zone, winning the battles," said defenceman Michael Kempny. "They were faster, they were quicker with the puck, and they outshot us. Congratulations to the USA."

In their preceding 3-1 loss to Canada, the Czechs were outshot 44-17. They once again failed to put enough rubber on net, as coach David Quinn's troops had a 34-15 edge in shots.

Goalie Casey DeSmith looked poised as he secured his second tournament shutout and fifth win versus Czech starter Karel Vejmelka.

"I think we’re just playing really good team hockey," said DeSmith. "Everybody’s coming together. We’re playing to our strengths, we’re playing fast, we’re on top of teams, and defensively it’s paying off so far."

The result extends the U.S.’s winning streak to eight games, unprecedented for an American team at the Ice Hockey World Championship.

The big question was whether the Czechs could frustrate the top-seeded tournament-leading offence, which produced 34 goals in the preliminary round. The answer in a first period where the U.S. outshot Czechia 11-2 was “only so long.”

Coronato opened the scoring for the U.S. at 12:04 with his second goal of the tournament. He spun around to convert a rebound, with the puck deflecting in off Czech assistant captain Michal Jordan’s skate.

In the second period, the Czechs ramped up their effort but still struggled to create chances. At 8:53, Perbix made it 2-0 off a faceoff, whizzing a shot from the side boards over a kneeling Vejmelka's shoulder on the short side.

"We called a play that didn't materialize and he made a great read and just fired it right under the bar," said Bonino.

At the start of the third period, captain Roman Cervenka got inside on the U.S. defence with speed for a rare quality Czech chance, but DeSmith's glove arm denied him.

Gauthier got the puck off a faceoff and ripped home a blocker-side laser for a 3-0 lead at 9:57.

"He's got an elite shot," said Rocco Grimaldi. "He's 19. So just imagine in five to 10 years what it's going to look like!"

Even with Vejmelka pulled late for the extra skater, the Czechs got nothing going.

"We know our game," said Henry Thrun. "When we play the way we can, we’re all a pretty confident group, and we feel like we can take anyone in our matchups."

U.S. forward Michael Eyssimont served a one-game suspension for kneeing Sweden’s Rasmus Sandin in the group stage finale.

This was the seventh time the Americans and Czechs have met in the quarter-finals since the IIHF’s institution of the playoff system in 1992. The teams split the previous six quarter-finals. The last time in 2018, Patrick Kane scored twice, including the winner, in a 3-2 U.S. victory in Herning, Denmark.

The last Czech-U.S. meeting of any kind was the 2022 bronze medal game in Tampere, which the Czechs won 8-4.