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Canada crashes out of world juniors after Czechia’s late winner: ‘Worst feeling’

GOTHENBURG, Sweden –

Fraser Minten was heartbroken. Owen Beck’s head was still spinning. Oliver Bonk had to be consoled.

Canada fought back from an early 2-0 deficit to tie its quarterfinal with Czechia at the world junior hockey championship Tuesday.

With thousands of red-clad fans — some dressed in costumes, other sporting inflatable suits — urging them on inside Scandinavium arena, the Canadians seemed destined to push through.

It was only a matter of time. Overtime loomed. One stunning moment changed everything.

Jakub Stancl scored his second goal of the game with 11.7 seconds left regulation as Czechia defeated crestfallen Canada 3-2 to advance to the tournament’s semifinals.

“Feels like the world’s ending a bit,” said Minten, the team’s captain. “Such an unbelievable opportunity for all of us in our careers. You never really know if you’re going to get another look representing your country or playing on such a global stage.”

Canada carried the play for most of the final 40 minutes before Stancl fired a shot in the dying moments that deflected off Bonk — a defenceman from Ottawa and the son of Czech-born former NHLer Radek Bonk — off the post and beat Rousseau for his third of the tournament.

“Horrible way to end things,” Beck said.

Canada, which had played in four straight finals, suffered its first-ever loss to Czechia in the medal round.

“It’s tough for (Bonk),” Beck added of the deciding goal. “Could have happened to any of us.”

The game was a rematch of last year’s gold-medal contest in Halifax, which Canada took 3-2 in overtime. Five members of that Czech team dressed Tuesday, while Beck was Canada’s lone returnee.

“Revenge,” said Czechia captain Jiri Kulich, whose team will face either Sweden or the United States in the semis.

Tomas Cibulka had the other goal for the Europeans, who got 28 saves from Michael Hrabal.

“Amazing,” Stancl said. “We stayed strong.”

Matthew Wood and Jake Furlong had the goals for Canada. Rousseau made 19 stops.

Star centre Macklin Celebrini, who’s expected to be the top pick at the 2024 NHL draft, led the Canadians with eight points in five games, but was held off the scoresheet Tuesday.

“The inch didn’t go our way,” said head coach Alan Letang, an assistant in 2023. “When you play the game long enough, there’s times where you’re on the wrong side.”

Canada was minus five eligible professional players in Sweden — including Connor Bedard, who was named NHL rookie of the month for December shortly after his country was eliminated — while two more were out due to injury or illness.

The team talked about the need for a “relentless” approach without the game-breakers of tournaments past, but never really got going in a preliminary round that saw the Canadians finish second in Group A after losing to the hosts.

“There’s really good teams that mark on the calendar when they play Canada,” Letang said. “I told these guys early on, ‘You always get every other country’s best.”‘

Canada beat Finland 5-2 — with two empty netters — thumped lowly Latvia 10-0, fell 2-0 to the Swedes and picked up an unconvincing 6-3 win over Germany before this shocking turn of events.

“Gripped my stick a bit too tight,” said forward Matthew Poitras, who joined the national team from the Boston Bruins. “I feel like I kind of let some of these guys down, let the country down.”

Canadian winger Matthew Savoie (lower-body injury) returned to the lineup after sitting out a game, while Conor Geekie was also back following his early ejection Sunday.

“We created a lot,” Savoie said. “Pucks weren’t going in.”

Down 2-0 to Czechia through 20 minutes, Rousseau stopped Eduard Sale on a 2-on-1 early in the second.

Wood then moved in on a partial break a few minutes later to score his second at 3:43 to give the travelling contingent in the stands hope.

The Canadians continued to press, and Furlong finally got the equalizer with 3:20 left when his point shot through traffic beat Hrabal.

Canada couldn’t do anything with the game’s first power play early in the third before Brayden Yager hit the post. Savoie then sent a shot wide on a great chance before the shocking end.

“(Crap) bounce,” said defenceman Maveric Lamoureux.

Looking for a third straight gold medal, and the country’s 21st overall, the Canadians fell behind 1-0 at 7:51 of the first when Stancl fired his second past on Rousseau.

“It sucks,” Minten said. “We had a brutal start.”

Czechia got a penalty shot when defenceman Noah Warren slashed Dominik Rymon on a breakaway, but Rousseau made the save with a poke check.

The goaltender was at fault on the 2-0 goal with 1:59 left in the period when Cibulka fired a point shot through a screen.

The Canadians would fight back only to come up agonizingly short.

“We left so much on the table,” Poitras said. “It’s the worst feeling in the world.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 2, 2024.

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