Canada tops Slovakia to move on
by Lucas AYKROYD|23 MAY 2024
In a 6-3 quarter-final win over Slovakia at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, Canadian captain John Tavares (L, #91) celebrates a first-period goal by Pierre-Luc Dubois (#80)
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andrea Cardin
There was never much doubt. Canada got goals from five different players to defeat Slovakia 6-3 in Thursday's early Prague quarter-final at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

In this sometimes chippy affair, NIck Paul led the way with two goals and an assist, and Dylan Guenther had a goal and an assist. Jared McCann, Pierre Luc-Dubois, and Brandon Tanev also scored for Canada.

"We had a great start, and just from there, we were building," Paul said. "We were winning our battles, putting pucks to the net, and winning our second chances."

The Canadians, under returning head coach Andre Tourigny, are the defending champions and hope to repeat for the first time since 2015 and 2016. They remain undefeated in the Czech capital through eight games, including overtime wins over Austria (7-6) and Czechia (4-3).

Peter Cehlarik, Milos Kelemen, and Marek Hrivik replied for Slovakia.

"You don't expect this to be over, and just like that, it's done," said a rueful Cehlarik.

Despite a creditable effort, Slovakia saw its streak of quarter-final disappointments continue. It has not made the semi-finals since 2012’s surprising silver medal run. That featured a 4-3 quarter-final upset over Canada. Michal Handzus got the power-play winner with 2:32 left.

Canada outshot Slovakia 43-21 in this duel between first-string goalies Jordan Binnington and Samuel Hlavaj.

The Canadians established control from the outset. Beyond the defensive side of the puck, they were better at converting their chances than their Central European foes.

McCann opened the scoring at 2:45. He took a nice headman feed from Colton Parayko, powered around defender Patrick Koch in the right faceoff circle and elevated the puck over Hlavaj while losing his stick in the process.

Two minutes later, Dubois lifted the rebound from Bowen Byram’s centre-pointer wrister past the Slovak netminder for a 2-0 lead.

"We have lots of depth in this team, and we know that anyone can score at any time," said Dylan Cozens, who leads Canada with eight goals. "So that's a great advantage of ours."

At 7:56, the Slovaks got some life on a flukey goal. Rushing down right wing, Cehlarik attempted to saucer the puck to Simon at the crease, but a backchecking Brandon Hagel inadvertently tipped the puck past Binnington. The goal was credited to Cehlarik – who was named Best Forward at the 2021 Worlds – as his third of this tournament.

With under three minutes left in the first period, Slovakia had a golden opportunity to knot the score on a 2-on-1, but Kelemen failed to convert Pavol Regenda’s cross-ice pass.

In the second period, the Slovaks came out hard early and fluffed another chance for the equalizer. Binnington gave up a juicy rebound, but Villam Cacho couldn't bang it into a gaping net.

A beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play off the rush made it 3-1 at 3:48, courtesy of Canada's fourth line. Guenther pulled up and found Connor Bedard coming down the middle. The 18-year-old superstar froze Hlavaj before feeding Paul for a one-timer from the bottom of the left faceoff circle. In IIHF play, Paul is best-known for scoring Canada's golden goal versus Finland in Riga in 2021.

In the third period, an early double-minor for high-sticking to Regenda ate up more potential Slovak comeback time. Juraj Slafkovsky, the 2022 Olympic MVP, went to the bench in pain after taking a John Tavares one-timer off the knee.

Back at even strength, Guenther made it at 4-1 at 6:20, converting a second chance after Hlavaj had stoned Hagel at point blank range. Just 20 seconds later, Tanev cashed in the rebound from Damon Severson's shot for Canada's fifth goal.

"In the third again, we made some mistakes, and they were able to put the puck in," Cehlarik said.

Kelemen promptly gave the Slovak fans a reason to cheer at 7:08, racing down right wing to snipe one high past Binnington on the stick side.

Tempers rose with wrestling matches down the stretch. On a Slovak 5-on-3, Hrivik capitalized on a sweet cross-ice set-up by Libor Hudacek at 16:57 to keep hope alive.

Slovak coach Craig Ramsay pulled Hlavaj for a sixth attacker, and the Slovaks mounted a desperate push. However, Paul added the empty-netter from centre ice with 50 seconds left.

On balance, this was an inconsistent tournament for Slovakia. The 2022 Olympic bronze medalists were unable to defeat any perennial medal contenders and only earned consecutive wins once, over Poland and France.

"It's been a bit of a roller coaster," Cehlarik said. "I feel like we've been kind of up and down. Each and every game was different for us. There were minutes in the game where we were down, and we have to take more responsibility in those moments where the game goes one direction or another for us."

Canada moves on to the final four for the ninth consecutive tournament. The last time the red Maple Leaf failed to play for a Worlds medal was in 2014 when Iiro Pakarinen’s late goal lifted Finland to a 3-2 quarter-final win.
Canada vs Slovakia (QF) - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship